Why do kids love climbing on their parents? Around our house, I can’t lie on the floor for more than a second before our daughters’ instincts kick in (“Adult down! Adult down!”) and they rush over to take turns doing bellyflops onto me. Just like a professional wrestler, I can expect knees to the groin, a belly dropping on my face, an elbow in the throat — all accompanied by gales of squealing. It’s showtime and I’m the ring. I love playing this way with Odessa and Sasha. It makes me laugh hysterically. Mind you, that could just be a symptom of organ damage.
It turns out horsing around with your kids is good on many levels. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop their muscles, coordination and balance, and stimulates imagination. The National Institute for Play notes that such play builds character, helps prevent aggressive behaviour, and can even be “a glimpse of the divine.”
These games are suited to most kids from about 12 months old (depending on their level of head control and muscle development) to three years and beyond.
Hold onto your hat, cowboy — this classic is still a favourite. While you sit on a chair, your child straddles your leg, facing either forward or backward. Hold her waist and bounce away. Some parents like to sing a song. I like to tell a story. The ride starts off smoothly (small bumps), then the horse has to jump over a puddle (big bounce), then he sees a rabbit and runs after it (fast bouncing); then — whoa! — he stops suddenly at the edge of the cliff (drop the knee).
Child straddles both legs. This is more comfortable if your legs are skinny, and lets you open your legs for a sudden drop when the horse falls in the big hole!
Get on hands and knees and carry your little one straddling your back. Careful — even a child with good balance can fall off fairly easily.
Air Dad (or Mom)
Prepare for takeoff! Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your child is standing by your feet and leans onto your shins. Hold her by her hands and lift her with your legs until she is horizontal. Have her stretch out her hands to spread her wings. (Don’t do this one near any hard objects or on a bare floor, in case of a tumble.)
Watch out for turbulence! Sway your legs side to side, bounce your child on your shins or raise one shin at a time, causing your kid to roll back and forth. Hold onto her hands in case she slips off.
For advanced flyers only
Starting the same way, place the bottoms of your feet on your child’s belly and chest, hold her hands and lift her with your feet until she’s horizontal. Coach her to stiffen her body like an airplane — whee!
Some kids just love being held upside down Sit on a chair or couch and put your child on your lap facing you. Holding his waist, let him bend his upper body backward until it is upside down. He should still be sitting in your lap, but his back will be on your shins.
For more action
Stand facing your child and reach over him to hold his waist from behind (your thumbs should be on his back). Lift and rotate him through a somersault until you can sit him on your shoulder. Then do it in reverse to put him back on his feet. Careful not to bump his head on a low ceiling or light!
The giant is hungry! Roll your child up in a duvet cover or blanket like a big tortilla, leaving his head out so he can still breathe easily. Then pretend to eat him. Kids find this pretty funny. When you’re full, pretend to put him in the fridge. (Not the real fridge! Just another spot on the bed or a couch.) Oops! You forgot him in there a couple of days and notice he’s starting to smell funny, so you put the sandwich in the garbage. (Not the real garbage!) Then he gets put in the garbage truck, where the trash compactor squishes him a little bit. Then it’s off to the dump, where a bird pecks at him. Finally he turns into compost, and gets spread out on the garden.
Roughhousing safety requires common sense and awareness:
• Avoid activities that jostle a child who doesn’t have good head control — which usually comes at 10 to 12 months. Even then, games shouldn’t be so rough that a child can’t easily keep his head from flopping around.
• Monitor your surroundings and the child’s actions at all times. If your baby exuberantly throws herself overboard, she’s counting on you to catch her!
• Listen to your child: If he’s not enjoying it or expresses discomfort, stop immediately.