May 3, 2021

Ask Margaret - My Son Can't Keep His Hands to Himself

Roughhousing and physical play between kids– especially boys– is natural, but that doesn't mean it doesn't drive parents crazy. Here's how to put sane parameters around it.

Kids often struggle to keep their hands to themselves– and this can be especially true for boys, who love to punch, tackle, and poke at anyone who gets near them.

This week Emily asks:

As a mom of boys, I am finding that my five-year-old son is very handsy with his friends and boy cousins. It's like my younger son and other boys are magnets that cannot keep their hands off each other. It's not aggressive, it's just constant touching, tickling, purposely running into each other, etc. I am not sure how to curb it,or if it's even possible.

And even if I get my son to break the habit, how would I keep other kids from putting their hands all over him? It's not that I am any more of a germaphobe than anyone else, I just feel like it's a recipe for disaster... and when he goes to school in the fall ,I don't want him to be off task and missing directions. Is there anything I can do, or is this just a boy thing?

Watch any nature show with a group of young lions and you'll see the cubs wrestling, biting, and tussling with each other (often to the non-delight of their mama). The same holds true for our own kids. Roughhousing and other forms of physical contact serve many purposes, helping youngsters find and test boundaries, express anxieties, manage aggression.

So Margaret is extremely pro-touching among kids as long as a few simple guidelines are followed:

  • All physical contact and especially roughhousing should be among "equals" - no big kids whaling on little kids, and no little kids pawing at uninterested bigs.
  • Keep an eye on consent - make sure that everyone involved in the physicality is comfortable with it.
  • Spaces and places- wrestling, roughhousing, and physical play is appropriate in the yard but not in the living room.

Kids tend to get less physical as they get older and keeping "touch-free" spaces (this will probably happen naturally at school) is a great way to help kids start to gain control over their physicality.

By the way: when it comes to germs, once Covid is taken out of the equation, there's not too much to worry about. While Covid is still a threat physical distancing should be maintained– but post-Covid, check out this article for a reality check on germs.

In this episode Margaret also cites this article by Anne-Marie Gambelin for Motherly: Relax, Mama- roughhousing is good for your kids–really

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