There is a small but elaborate ritual that is played out in our house every time La Niña or El Niño hurt themselves. Perfected by Mamma dearest, this little exercise builds on the kiss-all-booboos-away philosophy that mothers everywhere employ with such telling effect.
In my case, once I hug the children and comfort them, I turn with ferocious anger on the space on the floor where they have fallen or the thing they have tripped over or the piece of furniture that they have grazed their knee against.
Letting out the full force of my anger, I shout at the offending party, “How dare you hurt my baby? You better not try your stunts ever again. Mamma’s watching and if you try something funny, I’ll come back to get you. Now say sorry to El Niño/La Niña.” This done, I say sorry as squeakily as possible and my baby is satisfied that justice has not been denied.
Sometimes as a variation, I survey the room, intently scanning the furniture and warn it not to stray into my children’s path when they are playing or face dire consequences from Angry Mamma.
So much does this game please them that they rush into my arms claiming they are in pain even when they are not really hurt. You would think that children who take such delight in being mollycoddled would shy away from any rough play. But it is quite the contrary.
The moment the Husband returns from work, he rushes to the bathroom for a quick shower in preparation for a session of roughhousing with the kids. It is a time that all three of them enjoy. The Husband lies down on his back, with his knees bent over. Then La Niña and El Niño take turns sitting on his feet, facing him, for the pleasure of being hoisted up into the air, as though they are sitting on a one-sided see-saw. All the while, the Husband mumbles some nonsensical song that goes, “Keeka, batate”, while the kids shout for more.
When the Husband is tired out with the horseplay, all three of them wrestle one another. The Husband tickles them, while they get hoarse laughing. I hover on the fringes, cautioning them to be careful, afraid that the children might get hurt. But I can see how much fun they are having.
Sometimes the Husband carries the children in his arms, their belly down and arms extended above the head, and carries them all around the house while shouting, “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can. Spins a web, any size, catches thieves just like flies. Look out! Here comes the Spiderman.” I remind the Husband that this kind of flying pattern is more Superman’s style but no one pays attention to me.
Even as the Husband is engrossed in playing these rough-and-tumble games with the kids, he keeps his head. It is his responsibility as an adult to make sure that the tickling and the tumbling always stay within limits. That they end with the kids asking for more, not with them crying.
When the games get competitive as they sometimes do, with the children competing with their father, he sometimes lets them pin him down. At other times, he declares himself winner. While La Niña and El Niño cheer wildly when they win, celebrating their victory by vigorously punching the air, it heartens me to see the graciousness with which they accept defeat. Most importantly, it is thrilling to see the bond of affection that is forged between the children and their father through the medium of roughhousing.
The Husband never excludes La Niña from the fun, insisting that it is as beneficial for her as it is for El Niño. He’s right. Studies have shown that kids who play at roughhousing with their dads grow up to be more confident. It also helps to release children’s pent-up energy in a controlled environment where having fun is the priority but safety still comes first.
To ensure safety, there are some unwritten rules that are emphasized No biting, scratching or kicking, no hitting the eyes or the head, and stopping instantly when the child (or the parent) says, “Stop,” or any other word previously agreed upon as the signal to cease and desist instantly. Also, playing on the carpet or bed, with lots of cushions and pillows around, helps protect the child from any hurts and falls.
Before embarking on these games, parents would do well to keep family heirlooms, Ming vases, etc., out of harm’s way. This will ensure that the children have a good time without leaving the house looking like Hurricane Katrina has swept through it.
The advantage of roughhousing is that it teaches kids to have fun but in a sensible manner, reminding them that if they are not careful, it could result in pain. Roughhousing has been known to unleash the creative force in children, enabling them to feel sheer exuberance. It also helps children to understand that each person has the right to set his/her own boundaries, which others must respect.
Proper roughhousing enables young children up to the age of 10 or 11 to perceive physical contact in a positive manner. It teaches children to understand concepts like how best to balance oneself, how to judge spaces between two individuals, how to coordinate, how much force to exert, etc. It makes kids more resilient and tells them that they have to keep their wits about them as they counter the challenges that come their way.
Kids learn to think on their feet, in the throes of the action. They learn to interpret and decipher non-verbal gestures, read body language and attune their responses to external stimuli, all in quick time. Roughhousing also promotes brain development, by triggering activity in multiple areas of the brain, including the cerebellum, the area responsible for motor development, and the cortex, which is in charge of problem solving, memory, language and number-based skills, and houses memories.
While roughhousing is good for children, it is especially good for dads too. Nature has designed nurturing in such a way as to make the mother the primary care-giver for her little ones. Roughhousing allows dads to get a piece of the nurturing action. It allows both adults and children to get a hormonal rush. Not only do you experience the endorphin rush that athletes get, you also get a rush of oxytocin, better known as the love hormone, the one that is released when a child is nursed or made to feel loved.
For best results, it is better to start slow, then do some vigorous yet enjoyable roughhousing, then begin to go easy. The Husband often winds down by assisting the children with some building block activity or chatting with La Niña about her day.
That’s all there is to it. The important thing to remember is that children should never get an impression that they are not safe. Nor should the hahaheehee ever turn into a cry of pain.
There are times when I see them having so much fun, that I almost feel tempted to join them. But then I change my mind. If I start playing rough-and-tumble too, who will mollycoddle them?
After all, La Niña and El Niño need someone to turn to when the furniture needs to be forced to apologise.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.