How I Let My Boys Play: Physical Play Is Not Wrong

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She saw danger. She saw inappropriate behavior. She saw sticks pointed and park mulch flying at faces. She saw equipment being played with "the wrong way."

Worst of all, she saw a mother on a cell phone not interceding.

So she huffed up to me. I put down my cell phone.

"They are playing with those really big sticks and throwing them at each other's faces," she announced.

I asked, standing up, "Is the boy they are playing with your son? Would you like us to go talk to them?"

She admitted, "No, none of them are mine."

"Oh." I sat back down on the bench.

(Silence.) Now came the part where she refused to stop watching them because Someone Needs to Monitor This and If You Won't Then I will Do Public Service by Policing Them!

So I offered, "Well, they are having fun, and they are all aware of the risks of playing like that. I am sure someone will get knocked about a bit, I mean, that happens when you play with sticks and rocks. But I am going to let them play."

"C'mon," (grabbing her daughter's hand) "let's go to a better park." (Cue angry stomping.)

A bunch of little boys playing drove someone away from a park today. I was fascinated. She saw something she felt should be stopped. Immediately. I saw my two sons, Tsega, age three and Cookie age five playing a fantastic game with a boy they met at the park, who spoke their body language.

They were all so darn regulated while hauling a fifty pound tree branch up the steps to send it flying down the slide. They worked as a team, they were laughing their heads off. They communicated when they felt threatened. They were not engaging or antagonizing other children. I saw boys playing beautifully.

Boys Playing with Sticks
Credit: chefranden.

And this is important, none of them were playing aggressively. And that is different than what they were doing: playing physically. Over the last five years of mothering boys I have learned how intrinsic this physicality this is to boy play. Yeah, I am sure some girls do this and need this. I get that all kids are wired differently so you may see this in your girl children, but in my house, the boys do this and need this so much more than the girls. They are so freaking physical in their play I have to just stop looking when they play because I am not going to try to referee it, I can't. It is nigh impossible to completely regulate. They engage each other like puppies in more than eighty percent of their social interactions. They rarely talk. It is almost always physical.

Yes, it drives me nuts. But I have learned that this is what boys, especially when I have three about the same age, do. By gum, when it's time to eat or do chores, or pray, I will sit on them, yell and threaten if I have to to make it all stop, but when are at a park I choose to let them use their bodies as much as they want to. Particularly, if they are respecting each other and making friends and not hurting anyone who does not want to play that way. I don't believe in collateral damage, but if everyone involved is a willing participant, I tend to just stand by and see where it goes. I think they learn so much from whatever it is they are doing. It is just how I have chosen to parent them.

To the unknowing eye, boy play looks aggressive and crazy and not safe. It isn't safe. It does often end in a minor injury. They are not trying to play safe. My boys hurt each other all the time, mostly on accident. I don't really understand why they persist after all the bruises, bumps, bloody lips and gashed foreheads, but guess who does? My Hubs. I have learned to try to go with it and give them space for it and shake my head when Hubs gets into the mix, too.

At the park that day, the little boy my tiny men were playing with was eventually called over by his mom. They had to leave. I asked her "Were you approached too, about the playing issues?"

She said, "What? What issues?"

I responded, "You know, the rocks and sticks and log jam. That woman left the park because she didn't like that I wasn't stopping their play."

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