What is the Difference Between Fighting and Rough Play?

This is a question that has become a hot topic of conversation in the Early Childhood world and something that keeps popping up in my work here at the Center. Everyone wants to know if there is difference between rough play and fighting when it comes to young children. They also want to know if children are participating in rough and tumble play, what the limits are. First, I think that it is important to note that yes, there is a difference between the two. In their bestselling text, Challenging Behavior in Young Children, Kaiser and Rasminisky define rough and tumble play as “when children hit, chase, wrestle and restrain one another for fun”. They go on to say that it is more common in boys and that it is a way for them to “test themselves against others, learn to compromise, respect rules and regulate aggression”. The authors describe ways in which teachers and parents can tell the difference between the two. Some examples being facial expression (are they laughing), role reversals (are they taking turns…you chase me, then I’ll chase you), number of players (usually a fight is between 2 children, rough play can have many more participants).

So assuming that it is rough and tumble play and not fighting, teachers and parents still want to know if it is okay for school. This is a tricky question for early childhood administrators. We know that there are important skills that the children can learn through this type of play, but we also know that the children must learn that there is a time and a place for it. Is it okay to have a wrestling match in the middle of circle or lunch time? No. But it is okay to have a set area on the playground that the children can use for rough play. Some programs even have a spot in the classroom for this play. The key to rough play is just like any other learning experience that the children have. It needs to be planned for, supervised and guided so that the desired outcomes are reached for all involved. This is easier said than done sometimes when it comes to this topic because it is so ingrained in us that fighting is not allowed. So, as always it is our job to be open-minded and creative when addressing rough play in our curriculum.