A Plea for Boyhood and Rough Play


Boys will be boys. As simple as that might sound, it is utter truth. Boys and girls are not the same:  not physically, not psychologically, not even spiritually. The spirit of a little boy is a burning desire to touch, build, fix, destruct, fight, and love. My son is a co-sleeping snuggle bug that loves fiercely. He often gifts me with pine cones and other treasures, and he wipes my tears when I cry. He’s a gentleman. This is part of boyhood.

And, he’s a rough and tumble little boy. He likes to play with sticks and rocks and throw things and splash water and push and be pushed and chase and tag and flip and flop. He’s loud. Sometimes his dinosaur roar even scares the little ones. And I know how people feel about his behavior because I see the way they look at him and me: as though we are wild criminals fleeing an asylum just to bother their perfectly-behaved child. Like it or not, those perfectly-behaved children are most often little girls. Comparing a girl to a boy is like comparing an orange to a shoe. Just don’t, save your time, there is absolutely no point.

I know that gender differences are a touchy subject and I fully respect that there certainly can be a gray area. But there isn’t always a gray area. One of the most surprising parts of motherhood for me thus far is the amount of apologizing I’ve had to do for my son acting like a… boy.

I know that there is at least one mom reading this with a very cautious, sensitive little boy, rolling her eyes and screaming to herself about gender being taught. I know. I thought that too. And moms of daughters are reading and thinking that if I just knew how to effectively parent my son, he wouldn’t act that way. See, I thought some of those things myself, and sadly, I questioned the true nature of a boy. I too, am a girl. And some girls are rough and tumble, but I wasn’t one of them. I’m emotionally introverted and, as a child, anxious and slightly shy. I can’t recall a single incident at a playground where I hit someone. So I used to stare at my son in complete disbelief and shame. I have watched him hit others in his attempts to play. He’s a rough tagger and tough with a pool noodle during a chase. I understand why people look at us and think there is something wrong with us.

A big part of that equation, in my opinion, is our society’s lack of acceptance to unstructured play, physical touch, and big body play. Children do not necessarily need or want an adults ‘arms distance away’ from other children. And the ones that do will typically walk away from that type of play. It is just as normal that my son be rough and tumble as it is that your child is not. They are unique people, each and every one.

Two summers ago, we were invited to a sand and water party at an acquaintance’s house. Perfect, I thought. My then two-year-old son can get get messy and have a blast. There was only one other child there, a sweet little girl. While she made perfect little sand castles and sorted her toys by category, my son proceeded to sit in the water pail in his diaper and smash sand all over his body and face. The host was stunned and annoyed by his behavior and asked me if I wanted him playing that way. When I looked over at my son, I saw the most joyful, fulfilled child I have ever seen (honest, it was moving) and I looked straight at her and said Yes, I do. That’s exactly what I want for him. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for him since the day he was born.’ While she noted that he did seem happy, she complained about the clean up (on their driveway- give me a break) and stared at my feral child in disbelief.

Since that day, I cant help but wonder if rough and unrestricted play is just simply inconvenient for adults. It’s true, it can be messy. And rough and tumble does need to be monitored to some degree. But are we restricting our children because it doesn’t fit into our schedules or belief of what good behavior should be? I studied Gender Studies and Child Development in college, and I’m concerned that our boys are suffering, because it’s in their nature to get loud and fast and messy. Girls too, if you ask me. But girls are generally forgiven faster for hitting, etc because it’s considered out of their nature (so it must have been provoked).

When we say things like “Hands off!” and “Quiet down!” to our boys, we are asking them to stop something innate inside of them. When they attempt to roughhouse and get in trouble for even brushing past another child, we are telling them that they are wrong and bad. And while I fully agree that bullying is one of the worst qualities we can allow in a child, there is a HUGE difference between bullying and rough play, which is why it’s important that we learn and acknowledge the difference. Rough and tumble play is a critical part of a child’s development, and I stand strong that we need more of it, not less.

Do you let your boys play rough? If so, have you been judged for it?


  1. I raised 2 sons and 2 grandgirls. I will say that as different as my boys were from each other, they were all rough and tumble when they wanted to be. My youngest more than his older brother it must be said. The grandgirls fought with each other physically as much as my sons did. But they are wired different from boys. If your son tagged them hard my youngest grandgirl would slug him back. Her sister would take it till she had had her fill then she would finally slug him back. There are a lot of differences but also a lot of similarities. But when they are older and the boys will be boys needs to be toned down some.

    • Bobbi, I desperately wanted to include little girls in this blog, nut one thing I have learned from writing about kids – never write about kids you don’t have 🙂 I only have one son and he is just four years old. I agree with you about girls also enjoying rough and tumble play, and that older boys have to tone it down. Honestly, I think that’s HOW boys learn to tone it down. There is a male order to the world, and one of the ways to learn it is to participate in it. So, the more my son integrates into that world, the less he’ll need physical outlets as he matures. That’s the plan anyways! Thanks for sharing!

      • My son is nearly 13. “Rough” and “tumble” are his middle names. He is often covered in mud/dirt/grass. He is also the sweetest child I know. He tags and pokes and hugs (he was sent to the principal’s office in kindergarten for spontaneously kissing the back of the boy standing in front of him in line). He leaps and races and dives. I often cringe when he unleashes his boundless energy — I KNOW what other mom’s are thinking. They tell “funny” stories about things my son does in that faux humorous way which allows them to preach behind the lighthearted “banter.” One friend compares my son to Tigger, bouncing happily all over the world, driving people crazy at times, but mostly looking to love and be loved. Most memorable to date: On a 3rd grade (outdoor) field trip ,my son touched everything, climbed rocks, sat inside hollowed out tree trunks, ran ahead a few dozen feet and circled back over and over again. One particular mom wore her disgust more dramatically than her eyeliner. She did not say five words to me all day (we and our boy were paired up together.) She addressed me via discourse with her son. “WE (dramatic pause) do NOT behave that way” she told her sweet, timid boy (he had dared to climb a rock). Anecdotally, the boys remain good friends in middle school. I also have a girl, and she really is a completely different species.

  2. Amen! I’m on my 4th boy(adopted) after raising 2 biological boys and a granddaughter. While girls are fun to dress up boys have my heart. You hit the nail on the head!

  3. I agree with the statements about how society thinks rough play is bad behavior and shouldn’t be condoned. I have been working with children from 6 months of age to 5th grade for about 5 years now. If its one thing I have learned is sometimes you need to just let the children choose their own actions and deal with the consequences instead of babying them. I don’t believe rough play should be frowned upon either. My disagreement is about the gender. I have taken child development and phycology courses. One thing that I stand firm on is that children behavior is influenced by how they are treated. What I mean by this is, when a girl is born, she is automatically beautiful, a princess, dainty,… we raise them to play with dolls and to dress up and play house. Boys are often raised as strong, rough house, and play sports. We never truly give them a chance to be who they are, we just automatically raise theme by the gender stereotype. If you were given a football, who would you give it too? your son or your daughter?? Granted boys have more testerone so yes they may be more forceful and stronger but that doesn’t mean these actions are just for boys. We have just been told through the years that “boys will be boys” so we don’t think twice about this. This is just my opinion, I respect yours and to each their own. I believe boys and girls are more similar than you think, you just have to treat them equally with equal opportunities in learning sports, cooking, toys etc I very much enjoy this topic and article was a great read.

    • Chelsea, thank you so much for your input! I agree with you so much and I absolutely wanted to include girls in this article – however,I only have a son and I have learned the hard way not to write about girls – so this was a small piece of a larger puzzle focused on boyhood. And the gender issue is HUGE. I studied Gender Studies in college and I am a firm believer that environment shapes our view of masculine and feminine from our language to our dreams and our clothing options. But, I wanted to focus on the biological aspect a bit too, that girls and boys are not the exact same, and they aren’t supposed to be 🙂 Many girls are rough and tumble, and many boys are sensitive and shy. I wish those words didn’t immediately send us into a gender profile, but they do. I can’t change that. What I was most hoping to share with people is that rough and tumble shouldn’t automatically equate to “bad” “boys” “misbehavior”. Because I do think gender profiling is a problem, I really do. It’s a reality that I have to live with, so this was my plea for my son who is a wonderful blend of masculine and feminine energy. I hear people say that rough and tumble play is mean, and what I really feel they are saying is ‘boys are mean’.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences! Most of us moms are just trying to figure this out one day at a time and I really enjoyed reading your response!!

    • Chelsea, I totally get where you are coming from and 3 years ago, before I had my son, I would have rolled my eyes at this post, as I too learned in gender studies that we influence behavior with gender stereotypes. And while I still agree with that to an extent, my views have definitely changed over time. I have tried really hard to raise my son as gender neutrally as I can in this world- I dress him in gender neutral clothes, I buy him pink gardening tools, and I paint his nails when he asks. And yet I still observe a huge difference in his behavior relative to MOST (there are always exceptions) girls his age. I’ve decided that at least a tiny portion of this is somewhat innate. But even if “boyness” is taught, we are sending a mixed message- “Be a boy!… But don’t act like a boy!” I think Celeste’s post was more or less getting at that big body, physical play is important for all kids, but we are allowing less and less of it, even when boys are more than happy to engage in that sort of play.

    • Chelsea, I have to respectfully disagree. Neurological development, endocrine function, even cellular expression of genes is different between the sexes. That doesn’t mean polar opposite, and it doesn’t mean all people to the same exact level. But, there are biological differences beyond nurturing influences. And any other parent who is cognizant of the gender role wars out there, and has confidently raised children in a neutral environment only to find that people do have inherent traits, can say the same as I do: children are their own persons, but they can still fall into generic profiles. At least two of my three sons do, as does my daughter.

  4. Hating the description box for girls. “sensitive and shy”. Blech!!!! Each child is different. Your son isn’t like my son or my daughter. I think we need to see and embrace our children for the unique little beings that they are. If my physical, aggressive child was a boy – I might fall into the “boys will be boys” trap to get judgmental adults off my back but… She’s not. So… I have to be confident in my parenting. This is her temperament. I love her, guide her, give her space to be who she is, and teach her the many choices available to her (outside of the instinctual ones) for experiencing life and relationships (I.e. Choosing words instead of hitting, some great dance moves instead of using towel racks as gymnastics equipment, etc).

  5. Del, where the the description box for girls? If you mean the part where I was describing myself as a child, I have to say, I was sensitive and shy. Not your daughter or any other girl, but me. Of course each child is different, that’s actually my point. But I think we have to be sure to accept biological differences as well. Girls and boys are not the same. And most of the girls I know are not sensitive and shy, but bold and playful and amazing. But girls have less of a physical need for rough play, at least according to the professionals and my experiences at the park. Girls learn differently than boys, in some areas. and in others, exactly the same. And yes, that can be true for ALL INDIVIDUALS as well, but I can’t blog about each individual human on the planet. Like you said, if you daughter was a boy, maybe this would make more sense. But she’s not. And my son isn’t a girl, so I can’t write about having a daughter. I did my very best to explain something deeply important to me without insulting anyone. The only girl I stereotyped was myself, and it was only to show that I too had to break through these gender role stereotypes.

  6. Be careful. The one little boy that behaves the worst in all of our friend group has a “boys will be boys” mother. And after watching her parent for years she contributes to his problems by letting him constantly get away with everything, have his way in all situations to avoid bad behavior, having no structure and letting him get away with hitting and being physical because boys need to get these emotions out. They have an answer for everything that comes up, but he has real friend issues because none of the other boys want to play with him because he is violent. He hit a girl with a whiffle ball bat at school when he didn’t get his way. Parent response “That girl bothers me too.”

    I agree that boys do act different than girls, but not ALL boys go far enough that everyone else sees it as a problem. And there is no excuse for letting your boy be mean to other children. Take off your mom googles and evaluate your boy’s behavior. Is he simply high energy, high spirited, louder, messier and more physical than girls or also more of every thing than the other boys you know?

    Some of it goes to gender, some to genetics, but some of it does go to parenting. I have no idea which your son is, but after living next door to four boys and two girls, they ARE different. Boys need to be outside more than girls. They stink. If there is water they are going to find it. If you have at least two they will organize some sort of outside game. They will find something to play with – a rock, a stick, a ball wherever you go. And it can be wonderful. You can get girls as rough and tough as boys are generally expected to be or calm sensitive boys. Of the four boys, we have one that is mean as a snake and I think has mental problems. He thinks it is fun to smash the head off his brother’s snowman with a golf club while his brother is crying that “he and his daddy made it and please don’t destroy it. It is special.” I watch him go up and just hit his sister or knock her out of their hammock for no reason. She is 2. He is 9 now, but his parents swear that you know, boys will be boys. Their other son is a sweet angel. The older son behaves about as well as I expect the dad did as a child. Boys are different, but it is not unreasonable to judge your child to other boys not girls. He is probably perfectly normal and fine, but don’t blame everyone else for not accepting his behavior if it isn’t acceptable.

    • Eliza, I do appreciate your suggestions. I want to clarify for everyone that I am in no way confused about the differences between rough and tumble PLAY and downright bad behavior. And there is no blame here, just a plea to let little boys play with sticks. We have become such strict society, and since little girls ‘tend’ to fit the model of good behavior, there is a gender biased happening. Boys are being shunned for just being little. There is NEVER an excuse for aggression, bullying, etc. NOT EVER. My post isn’t about physical pain, it’s about physical play. While I do appreciate the feedback, I feel like I need to make that clear(er). My son is four and yes, he is perfectly normal and well developed. He is not an animal. The fact that people automatically assume that rough and tumble means punching their kid in the face really just furthers my point that little boys are seen as little jerks. My son is sweet and sensitive and hilarious. He’s never punch anyone and if he did, he would be in trouble. I wouldn’t even blame the other kid, because that’s not how we roll around here.

  7. Well stated. My son (3) and daughter (18 mo) are completely different. My son is a wildling. I do try to reign him in, of course, but he is what he is. He’s rough and loud. Loves to “fight and wrestle” with others. His poor action figures are in constant battle and his trucks/cars appear to always be participating in some sort of monster truck rally. We did not teach him this. He does not watch violent shows, unless you consider Mickey Mouse and PAW Patrol violent. He was just born this way. It’s his personality.

    My daughter, however, is the opposite. Sure, she gets into everything. She’s 18 months old, for pete’s sake. However, she is much calmer than my son. Not shy…just calmer. She enjoys carrying her stuffed animals, babies, and purse/bag around. If she acts wild, it’s only because she’s following the lead of her older brother.

    Girls and boys *are* innately different. This cannot be changed, no matter how much legislation or activists become involved. Why can we not appreciate the differences in the two sexes and allow them to be different in their own right? Why must we push homology in everything?

    As for the parenting issue stated by some other commenters, allowing your little boy to be himself is not the same as allowing him to behave badly. They have gotten the idea skewed. The two aren’t even in the same category. Any child can behave badly, girl or boy. Allowing a boy to be dirty, rough, loud, etc. is simply just allowing the child to embrace his personality and enjoy childhood.

    All of that to say this–keep up the good work, mom. Keep fighting for your son and allowing him to embrace his boyhood.

  8. We have 4 boys. With our oldest son, my wife was determined he would not play with “violent toys” like toy guns or Ninja Turtle dolls. What a huge mistake. After about year 5, she gave up and let him and his little brother be boys. All 4 boys grew up being rough, tough boys. Their sister did too. She had no choice! Now, she is a very feminine, princess, beauty queen, softball player and theater actress. The 2 oldest boys are college graduates, military officers, married with their own kids. It kills me to see boys with school teachers that don’t understand boys. My 6th grade son has one of those now.

    • Dave, thank you so much for your input. It’s nice to see a Dad on here to give the male perspective. I too have fears about school, because it is female dominated. Not that all women judge little boys, they don’t, but I rarely get negative feedback from men on this topic. My male friends that stay home with their dads are very open to the rough and tumble. My son is just four, and I do worry that school will challenge him to conform.

      The feedback I keep seeing is this: Do not blame others for the fact that your son is a monster that hurts other children.

      Yikes. I’m not saying that at all, and my son is far from a monster. But it really just furthers my point that there really IS a gender biased as children. As soon as someone hears rough and tumble, they assume I mean combat. Um, no, I mean tag and wrestling and BOUNDARIES. Boys have to learn the male flow of life, and I firmly believe that they learn a lot of that as children, through interaction with other males.

      Thanks for the feedback, and I hope your son gets some relief at school.

  9. I can’t get over how this describes my son. He is kind and plays well with others, but he is rough. He has gifted me with sticks, pine cones, leaves, rocks, bird feathers, walnuts, acorns, and other specimens from nature too numerous to mention. He prefers a pile of dirt vs. sand and would bathe in it if he could. He just turned 5 and I was recently told by his preschool teacher that he would rather play than learn. His imagination is phenomenal. On his “report card” she described his ability to engage in imaginative play as “developing” vs. “independent.” He came home with a note on a worksheet he had to color that read “scribbled so he could go back to playing.” I fear that his true talents are being overlooked and that he will grow to resent school. Every move he makes is done with boisterous passion, and I feel as though he is living his childhood to the fullest. I wouldn’t want him any other way. ❤

    • Stephanie! The beloved pine cone <3 We have a small collection as well. Thank you for sharing your story, your son sounds like creative, energetic awesomeness.

      Have you considered Montessori school for him? My son attends now, and it's really funny because their whole gig is that children learn through play, and that playing is their job. They do have to work, and manners are key, but it's child directed and very wonderful on all fronts. We are there now for preschool, but will likely continue! Just a suggestion to harness that awesomeness 😉

  10. I hope that you teach your rough and tumble little boy boundaries. My very diverse little girl that takes both ballet and soccer, and loves both “the Avengers” and “Angelina Ballerina” went to school with a boy that had absolutely unacceptable behaviour that was labeled as “boy” behavior put his hands on my daughter when she didn’t want him to. Repetitively. The mother brushed it off, said that’s how they acted in their home, he’s just a boy, that it meant he LIKED my daughter! That was until the day he threw her on the ground and kicked her in the stomach repetitively “playing”. I despise rough play and made it clear if it continued I’d be getting an attorney. I am a mother of three boys ranging in ages from 16 to 9 and two girls, one is a preschooler, the other an adult. My adult daughter never touched a doll. She never played house. She loves animals, and couldn’t stand pink. My 13 year old son loves “the sound of music” and dance. Your gender stereotypes are not okay. Do my boys rough play? Yes. But there is a time and place for it, and it’s not always acceptable. My children are not allowed to hit in anger. If you think boys cannot be taught to communicate, empathise, care, and express themselves without acting like a primate you should read a few books. And I can promise you, as the boys get older and put their hands on my girl “rough playing” when she’s not reciprocating, her big brothers will in fact teach these boys what rough play really is.

    • Misty, this post is about boundaries. Hitting in anger is a very different topic, and I’m not concerned about those boundaries because we teach our son to be a communicative, loving, kind person. Please don’t threaten him with ‘older brothers’ based on a fantasy that he hurt a your little girl. He’s never hurt a little girl. And he certainly never hurt yours. I never stated that boys can’t communicate, but that they ALSO DO communicate through rough play (with children also willing to play that way). I think you might want to read the entire blog before getting angry and making threats, please. Your post is almost completely unrelated to my blog.

      • Misty,
        Having personally been through what your daughter has, I have the deepest sympathies for her. However, please let me gently encourage you to perhaps consider teaching her how to effectively defend herself, as opposed to relying on her brothers. Eye contact, speaking up for herself, martial arts, and even proper defensive weapon training would be prudent as she grows into a young woman. (Though hold off on the mace until she is mature enough to use it responsibly). This would not only be beneficial to her, but all children as well, regardless of gender.

  11. First off, let me say I cannot believe some of the comments written on here. Did they read the same blog post as me???

    I, for one, loved what you has to say. I have a 2 year-old son, no other children yet, and he is so much like your son. So much energy, loves to get dirty, make messes, engage in physical play, be outside, I can go on…

    I also have 2 nieces. One is only 10 months old, so we have yet to see just how she’ll choose to play, but the older one is 3, and she is so sweet, gentle, incredibly smart, focused in her activities, and talkative.

    I dislike that we have to put disclaimers on everything, like you’ve continually had to do in response to comments, but yes, some girls and boys do not fit into the mold. In the same breath, though, stereotypes weren’t created from nothing; they came from generalized observations of the different sexes over the course of decades–no, centuries. We are different, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Not everyone fits perfectly into the cookie cutter expectations, but many of us do follow an overall trend, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

    We love physical play with our son, and he loves to engage us in it. You hit the nail on the head in one of your responses when you stated that teaching physical play is a necessary method to develop self control, express yourself properly and not in anger, and increase confidence… for both genders. After all, my sister and I “rough-housed” growing up, but we didn’t have the same need for it that many boys do.

    I sometimes get a little self-conscious about how physical my boy is. He’s never hurt someone intentionally. In fact, he once ran into a little girl by accident. As I comforted her while she cried, he paused and then laid down to hug her and comfort her as well. THAT is the difference. Yes, he’s wild, energetic, and sometimes destructive to things in my house if I take my eye off him for too long, but he’s sweet where it counts, and he’s learning.

    The one moment that I find the most comfort in, is when we were at a playground one day. He started just playing by himself, but as he grew comfortable, he approached a couple boys who were much older than him (ages 6 and 8, I discovered later). I never mentioned before that my son has a speech delay, which is one of those things indisputably more common in boys than girls, but that didn’t stop the silent communication that took place between him and those older boys. Within seconds, the boys “ran away” from my little one, screaming “Don’t let him catch you!” My boy smiled so big and chased after them. This went on for almost an hour, and the boys declared my son as their new friend. I was beaming. I may not fully understand it, but this is often how boys connect and develop trust/friendships in a healthy manner. It gave me so much comfort to see my son, barely 2 that day, develop a connection in a way that is natural to many boys and beautiful. It’s just sad that as a society we have labeled physical and competitive behavior as wrong and aggressive. I hope both of our sons will continue to hold onto that spirit regardless of what the world tells them. <3

  12. My little guy is very much a typical boy. Since infancy, he gravitated to boy toys and has grown to love rough play, wrestling, smashup monster truck races, etc. He is also very loving and a real cuddle bug. He began to thrive when we learned that he needed to be allowed to be a boy, to have the freedom to express himself and discover the world on his terms. We teach safety, respect for others and have good boundaries and clear consequences. When he was younger, he needed more corrective guidance so as not to hurt another playmate and such. He is just 4 years old but I’m confident that he is growing up to be an active, healthy, confident and loving BOY! Thanks for this article.

  13. I think you nailed it when you talked about messy play being inconvenient for adults. I have known plenty of little girls who like physical play and getting dirty. When I look at the parents of those girls, they are usually the type to embrace the dirt, while other girl moms cringe at (and subtly discourage) the worms in their hands.

    In this case, I believe gender comes into play for the girls. I think the fact that girls TEND to be more calm and receptive to “controlled play” allows their parents to encourage it and avoid the mess.

    I also agree with your stance that there is a male order to their world and boys have to figure it out. While girls may enjoy physical play, they don’t necessarily NEED it like boys do.

    Finally, I am surprised that it needs to be said that physical play and bad behavior are 2 different things!! Maybe that’s where it’s all gone wrong? Are the parents who don’t know the difference ruining it for the rest?

    • Cindy, yes, I think that the parents who hear to words rough play (or even the word boy) and jump immediately to violence and bad behavior are most of the problem. That is a severe gender bias, and it’s really unfortunate. One thing I have noticed though, the most people on here saying those things are mothers only to girls. So in fairness to all of us, they don’t actually know what they are saying. They haven’t lived it, and they haven’t loved a little boy of their own. That’s the ONLY reason I leave girls out of this blog for the most part. I love little girls and I do find them to be brave and creative and tough and sometimes even rough 🙂 But I don’t have a daughter, so I watch how I phrase things to not imply I know something that I couldn’t possibly know. We have friends who won’t let their sons play rough, and it does break my heart. Those boys really, really want to join in the fun. And I will even admit that at times, watching them play rough can be hard because I get anxious for someone to get hurt. But they smile the whole time and laugh and glee. They’ve taught me that unrestricted (to a point) play is AWESOME. And necessary. And important. Thank you for your reply!

  14. I so needed this today. Yesterday was my 18 month olds last day at The Nursery due to him being more rough then the others. He really is so sweet and loves to give anyone kisses. Today he saw a little girl throw a fit cause her mother did not want give her a pen. She laid down on the ground to started to cry. My son stared at her, then laid down next to her, hugged her, she was shocked and stopped to look and he kissed her. So rough one moment but mostly a giggly mess. I LOVE my life with a little male.

  15. What a great post. I have two “boys boys” who are 4 and 1.5. I’m also a fifth grade teacher of both boys and girls. Many times I’ve told that my boys have too much energy, that they’re too physical or that their attention span is lacking in relation to their female peers. Fifth grade boys need to be engaged. They need to feel supported. My little boys are the same. They do everything in life with passion. They play hard, work harder and love with no boundaries. While there are certainly boundaries, it is our job as parents to allow them space to learn about themselves as people while remaining respectful of those around them. Thank you for writing this!

  16. I like that this is a very thought-provoking article detailing the stigmatization of big body play. I do appreciate you advocating for more acceptance. You put a lot of time into this and I learned from your links as well. And, yes, while boys do suffer more from this stigma, I still would have liked to see the article focus more on the importance of “rough” play and actual stigma in general, but less on gender.
    Us mom of boys may have more reason to stand up and speak out, but it does not help our case to state this stereotype (of which there are many exceptions) so baldy. Let’s not ignore our sister-moms who are in the minority with daughters in similar situations.

    • To clarify–
      You seem like an intelligent, thoughtful author… that is why I have total confidence you could have written this piece without potentially alienating moms of daughters. Indeed, if you feel you do not have authority to speak for mothers of little girls, I would encourage you not to rely on stereotypes; rather write it without mentioning gender at all. 🙂 Peace and blessings

      • I appreciate your feedback. I also want to be sure to say that this was a plea for boyhood, as I only have a son. The first negative comment I got was about boys pushing girls off of chairs in a cafeteria. And then, boys kicking little girls. I tread as lightly on the girl/boy differences as I could, even stating that i think girls SHOULD be encouraged to full body play. I didn’t leave out gender because I do think that plays a role in the lack of ‘acceptance’ in this type of play, not in the innate desire to engage in it. I think I could have been more clear about that, I agree. My point on gender was more that it isn’t accepted because it’s seen as pointless boy time, when it is in fact important developmental time. When we think of boys, we shouldn’t automatically jump to words like violence, rough, misbehavior, and most to the point ‘picking on girls for fun’. That’s really where my gender stereotypes were leading, an awareness that they exist whether I like it or not and that we have to see past them to see the benefits of letting children (of all genders) be themselves.

  17. Celeste,
    Thank you!!! I birthed my first boy shortly after lots of people around me had girls. And yes, I’ve had to apologize for his behavior. Not because *I* think there’s anything wrong with his behavior, but others do, for the reasons you said and like you experienced. I love how he plays and watching him play. I love seeing what his mind comes up with. At 2yo, he’s helping my husband around our ranch – he pulls chains, stacks wood, rides in the mule, climbs rocks, plays in the creek, will hike 2 miles up an elevation of 500ft. The kid is crazy strong and smart … But rough and dirty… But I love it! When he was very young, he would climb up on things and I’ve always said, I’m not pulling him down for two reasons – 1) he’s gotta learn to get himself down, on his own, safely because I won’t always be right there and 2) the second I pull him down, that immediately becomes the ONLY place he MUST be – it’s a challenge. Now when he climbs things and people see it and get nervous I laugh. He never falls. He’s a toddler ninja. So thank you for this post, I love letting my boy be a boy. And seeing what he can do!

  18. i was a rough and tumble girl. I have 2 rough and tumble boys and one sometimes rough and tumble girl. To top it off, they are also the tallest in their age groups. Stares and disapproval are a constant part of my parenting experience. I wholeheartedly defend the right to climb UP the slide and throw rocks into the lake. If you are outside, yell if you want to. Wrestle with your siblings. I have also taken pictures of the youngest comforting the middle one on a bad day, the oldest defending his brother at the park, and snuggles at movie time. My interest is in seeing the bright, powerful kids grow up to make a difference. Their nature makes them not afraid to, and I will defend that every day. Parents of quiet, perfect children, enjoy your fewer headaches, and less stitches and casts. Leave my bright brilliant rambunctious children alone!

  19. I loved reading this. I had 3 girls and then a boy. Daily my son never ceases to amaze me or my hubby. At age 3, he took our piano bench lid off with a screwdriver without us knowing, all by himself! My girls never paid attention to their dad’s tools.
    I homeschool my 4 kids. My son started K5 this year. HUGE DIFFERENCE. He is so hyper and loves to be outdoors. He is a ball of energy from sunup to sundown. I really have to be creative with teaching him because I’m using the same curriculum as I did with my other kids, only I have to maneuver things to fit HIM now, which is somehow so different. Some days I just don’t know if I will make it through the day. Lol He has changed our home’s atmosphere immensely, but we all adore him. Just to be honest, we don’t even own a television and that little booger still begged for anything rough and tough he could get his hands on to play with from the store – not because he had seen a commercial but because it just appealed to him.
    My older two girls are 12 months apart and have always been more girly because they had each other and both liked girl things (although my oldest one can just about take down her daddy at age 11, lol). My third daughter is 23 months older than her brother. They are besties. She loves worms, cowboys, races, and all the things her brother does. At the same time, she will then refuse to play any longer with him and start brushing her dolly’s hair. 🙂 I love it.
    I do think I need to lay off my “neat freak” attitude. I’m trying!!! My son wanted to stomp on a ketchup pack to see what would happen. I let him. Outside, of course! In play clothes, of course. Ha!
    I know some boys AND girls who are totally out of control. However, I know that you do not mean you are going to let your son hit and punch and kick just so he can “play rough.” That’s silly. I’m sure the ones saying that have had bad experiences with others in that regard. It is sad that some parents don’t set boundaries and limits. Our son knows that he can wrestle with his daddy but cannot be physical with others. I can let him be as boyish as he wants to be and not raise him as a menace to society because we have boundaries and rules and have taught him respect.

  20. As the mother of two boys (7 and 5) we’ve made it beyond toddlerhood and are in the early elementary years. I’ve had a chance to watch my boys with other boys as well as girls in both structured (school) and informal (play) settings. The sooner people learn that behavior is a spectrum and there is a wide range of acceptable behavior it would be easier. How they learn, handle conflict, exhibit feelings, respond to discipline may vary by gender but both boys and girls can be anywhere on the spectrum if we think of one end as totally make and the other totally female.

    I think your right about how stereotypical girl behavior is more convenient for adults to handle. That doesn’t mean a little girl wouldn’t have smashed mud all over herself like your son but maybe those girls are fewer and far between. Some kids (both boys and girls) are more intuitive to parental expectations and conform more willingly.

    Unfortunately as kids start elementary school most classrooms are set up for “girl behavior”. Even when a teacher knows that some kids learn better by moving and touching and speaking loudly the institution (and what they’re expected to do) makes it impossible.

    My boys are loud and they like to play fight. Do I allow them to do it in a restaurant? No. They need to learn about behaving in public. But do I allow it in my home? Even when my friends with girls look on in horror? Absolutely.

  21. I am so glad to have found this, thank you for writing it! I have a 15 mo son, and have already noticed so many differences (as my experience is only growing up with a sister, and he is my first). I see signs that he is a boys boy and you have brought up many great points I haven’t thought of (or wouldn’t have known to yet). So I just wanted to say “thanks!” 🙂

  22. I read this article because an acquaintance had shared it on Facebook and I have twin boys who are almost two. I see the need to be outside and physical so clearly in my boys, each in their own way. The love of pine cones must be universal. The idea that we’ve steered boys away from their natural inclinations regarding play due to the inconvenience posed to parents or an overreaction to what is perceived as unsafe is spot on. Imagine my delight when I finished the article and realized I actually knew the author. Celeste, what an amazingly insightful mother and light to the world you are. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

  23. I am the parent of two young adults. I raised a girl and a boy. When asked for wisdom from new parents I have often shared this “They come to your prepackaged. They will let you know what they need if you give them the chance to do what they like. You can either support them in their interests or make their lives miserable by forcing them to do what you expect of them. Your real job is to keep them out of trouble and provide guidance but keep in mind you have already lived your childhood. Let them live their own.”

    While one liked to go to gun shows with their father and the other preferred to stay home and host a tea party, one was shy while the other sought out dance, theater and student leadership experiences requiring a confidence and desire to be center stage. My eldest was drawn to books for both knowledge and entertainment. The youngest preferred reading for fashion and celebrity gossip. One chose to work outside doing manual labor, planting and carrying 40 pound bags of fertilizer to customers cars. The other chose to work in a mall for the climate control and discount. They are both artistic and creative.

    It is my son who was his class president, is now president of his business fraternity and spent his youth on stage in theater, dance and show choir. Despite his sister going to the gun range for years with their father it was just last month that our son said he’d like to learn to shoot the next time he is home from college. Our daughter who has recently graduated with an English degree (writing emphasis) and Studio Arts Minor (her Business major brother shares her minor) is interning at a wildlife rescue where she feeds and cares for wild animals who are injured and cleans their cages, a job that would mortify her brother. She still works at the garden center where she has been the past three summers.

    Nothing better about ones choices over the other but I know if we had made our son play football or hockey simply because his father had, he would have been miserable. If we had forced our daughter to perform in anything but the athletic teams she chose she would have been unhappy. They get along great, she asks for his advice on what to wear and she remembers to tuck a People magazine into his finals package before we send it.

    She loves the outdoors, camping and activities like snow shoeing. He likes the outdoors because that is where Ralph Lauren shoots a lot of his ads. Raising them has been the best experience of my life and I will close with this additional bit of wisdom, do not try to treat your children equally. Your goal should be to treat them equitably. We have spent more on our son for activities clothing and transportation over the years. We have spent more on our daughter for books, art supplies and travel experiences. Though our son got a car for his 17th birthday (which saved us tons in time and gas) our college graduated daughter does not yet have a license. Enjoy their uniqueness and bask in their gifts, if they are exactly what you imagined or nothing like you expected!

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