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Parents with back pain and the benefits of roughhousing

Parents with Back Pain and The Benefits of Roughhousing

How to gain the benefits of roughhousing as a pain sufferer is no easy task. The fact is learning how to live with back pain as a parent is one of the toughest challenges anyone can have. Picture for a moment what it would be like if a mother had to suppress her instinct to hold her child when those little arms reach out.

 Parents with back pain and  the benefits of roughhousing
Parents with back pain and the benefits of roughhousing

Consider the following account:

“I closed the door on my wailing toddler and left her standing in her crib, reaching out for me. Her cries intensified, like the siren of an ambulance getting closer and louder until its howl drowns out everything else. I walked away and broke down crying. My daughter was sick, and I desperately wanted to soothe her. But I just couldn’t stand and rock her for one more minute to help her get to sleep. My broken body had reached its limit.” [1] Such is the state of a parent living with back pain.

The Role of Roughhousing in Producing Healthy Kids

The purpose of this post is to make non- pain parents more aware of the role  that roughhousing or tumble and play games has in the healthy development of children. Furthermore, how the parent in pain tries to manage so that his or her child can get the benefits of roughhousing.

For more information on roughhousing check:

Understanding the guilt so you can learn to live with pain as a parent

To answer the question first asked about what happens when a mother has to suppress her instinct  to hold  her child, we have to speak about guilt.  A mother suffering  from chronic pain puts it this way: “This guilt infects every part of life as a mom with chronic pain. There is no escaping it, as in nearly every decision there is some feeling of being able to do less than you may want to.” [2]

The Benefits of Roughhousing

The above example shows the importance of being able to pick up a child and soothe her or him when they are sick. There isn’t any real need to go into more details. However, there is another  problem, on the other end of the spectrum, that is often overlooked but can have big implications for future well-being of a child: Roughhousing and play or sometimes called  tumble and play. I will devote the rest of the post to this topic.

Not Participating in Roughhousing  and Play

In the Art of Roughhousing, Anthony DeBenedet, M.D., a physician and dad, and other scientists have identified  rough and  tumble play  as giving kids Bigger, better brains. [3]

According to the latest research, physical play stimulates and helps develop areas of the brain that control memory, language, and logic. The research “also shows that when kids roughhouse at home, they do better in school and have better relationships with friends.” [4]

Another way for mother in pain to find the benefits of roughhousing
Another way for mother in pain to find the benefits of roughhousing

Let’s see the premise of part of the statement above—kids roughhousing at home do better in school. This is an example  of how this works. Think of math. Hah? What’s math have to do with kids tumbling and engaging in a chase?

When Roughhousing Teaches Math

Research has shown that when kids engage in roughhousing combined with an element of the chase, their visual and spatial awareness goes up. Why? Well, they have to “navigate their bodies and the bodies of others in different spaces and across various obstacles.” This will help them become much better at math as they grow older.

When Roughhousing Teaches Better Relations

Two important factors in forming  good relationships are understating  boundaries and good communication. When kids engage in rough and tumble play they quickly become aware that it’s about having fun and not hurting anyone. Thus, they, for example, learn that if they pull on mummy’s hair too hard it will hurt mummy and they’ll stop doing it. Kids also  like to talk a lot when they are engaged in tumble and play. This enhances their linguistic  skills and makes them better at communicating as they get older.

The Implication  For Mom When Child Won’t Roughhouse

A child can quickly pick up when a parent is in pain, and that can effect whether he or she engages in roughhousing with that parent. One mother, in a forum for parents living with pain, worries that she can’t pick her daughter up and has noticed that she will only play rough or tumble game with her daddy. 

What a Pain Sufferer Mother Misses From Roughhousing

A mother describes her daughter’s roughing and tumbling as “…jumping up and down like a frog on the floor, which she loves, and pretending to be a lion and crawling around on the floor which she’s fantastic at and she loves improvising…she doesn’t even try to initiate it with me, she waits till daddy gets home and she’ll do it with him.” [5] 

Obviously the child is not intentionally doing  this to “hurt” her mother. In fact, she may doing it to protect mom. This of course can be emotionally tough for mom. She wants her child to act the way she perceives  a child should act with her mother.

Employing Alternative Strategies to Manage Roughhousing

The challenges  that a mom with chronic pain  has are made worse by the pain. One of those challenges is managing roughhousing or tumble and play with a child. A lot of times picking up the child is not possible. This means that one has to use other means. Among other things, a mother in pain can do the following:

  • Get the toddler to sit next to her. This way the toddler can climb up mummy’s leg and be a “spider” instead of mummy having  to pick her up.
  • Invite other kids to play. The kids can engage in other aspects of   tumble and play with your child, like pretending to be their  favorite animal. While they are doing all this pretending you can watch without the need to pick anyone up.
  • Get the child, within reason, involved an activity  that will make them feel good about helping you—like asking them to get you a glass of water. Walking from one place to another and returning with an item is one of the lessons in tumble and play. This is another way that distinguishes  it from aggression. This is also another way of understanding parents with back pain and the benefits of roughhousing.


Whether  you call it roughhousing or rough and tumble play, this is an activity that can help your kid gain self-control, social skills, flexible  thinking, safe-aggression, and physical fitness. That said, pain often makes it difficult for a mom to engage in such an activity. However, with some ingenuity one can find a way to still interact with her child  and help them become happy and often compassionate  human beings. I hope this post has shed some light on parents with back pain and the benefits of roughhousing.

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4 thoughts on “Parents with back pain and the benefits of roughhousing

  1. This really opens my eyes to how back pain would affect parents with young children, I do suffer from back pain myself but mine started after my sons were grown up. I can’t imagine how a mother would care for her toddlers with back pain, I remember my sons as toddlers were not as light in weight as you would think on days my back was bothering me. Lucky my back pain did not become severe to lift until I was much older and my sons were not toddlers any longer, great post many people might not realize how much back pain would affect parents with young children.

    1. Hello Jeff,
      I too wondered about the difficulty of a mother with back pain caring for toddlers in light of all the information about the benefits of roughhousing. She’ll have to change her approach like letting the child crawl up her legs. That said, it’s still a big challenge. I wrote this post because I think this is a topic that needs more discussion as most non-pain parents take the ability to engage in roughhousing with their kids for granted. As you said, many people might not realize how much back pain can effect parents with your children.

  2. Great information here, thank you. I had no idea that roughhousing could have far reaching benefits for children.
    Thankfully, I didn’t have back pain while raising our children so this was never an issue.
    You’re articles have made me mindful of those in pain. How difficult it is for them. I remember my daughter always wanting “up”. Something I took for granted for sure.

    1. Hello Suzanne,
      I’m so glad you found the post useful. I was trying to give voice to all those parents, especially moms, who live in daily pain but recognize the benefits that roughhousing or tumble and play has for their kids. They try hard to modify their activities so they can give similar benefits. I also wanted to make the pain-free parents become more aware of the benefits of roughhousing so that they can do more of it with their kids. Thanks for checking in.

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