Last December my husband and I had two weeks off work.
In previous years we had planned lots of holiday activities, day trips and overnight stays with friends and family. It had all been a little too busy and overwhelming for both us and the children, and so this year we decided we would hibernate at home and make very few plans.
We all had time to wind down. My husband and I were feeling relaxed and resourced enough to get playful with our daughter, aged eight, and our son, aged four.
One night towards the beginning of the holidays, I suggested we have a family wrestle before bed.
We used a spare mattress on the floor as our wrestling arena, and we made the rules up as we went along but it went something like this:
Set the timer for ten minutes
Agree on teams (We opted for two, with one adult and one child per team).
The aim of the game was to push each other off the mattress.
The only rules were no kicking or biting and if someone shouted the safe word “Jellybean” everyone had to pause.
And off we went.
It took only ten minutes to lift everyone’s mood and bring us all closer.The children threw themselves into the game wholeheartedly. Laughter and exuberance filled the room – my husband and I laughed just as hard as the little ones.
The children enjoyed it immensely and begged us each night before bed to have our family wrestle. And so, without planning it, we started a tradition of nightly family wrestles before bed.
We developed many variations along the way:
We gave ourselves special names (mine was “Mother Hugger,”)
We created silly rules. For example, we began every round by bowing to each other and saying “Namaste”, followed by a drum roll of clapping our hands on our knees.
We did tag teams
We invented special moves.
But most important of all?
We laughed. We laughed and laughed and laughed.
And, if, sometimes, someone got hurt, we paused the timer and listened to their upset until they were ready to dive in again. They were ALWAYS ready to dive in again!
Afterwards, I felt deeply connected to my partner and both of my children, and the strength of that lovely heart-bond that comes through laughing together.
It took only ten minutes to lift everyone’s mood and bring us all closer.
As the holidays progressed and we wrestled every night, I noticed both children began crying more at other times during the day. I was able to listen well as big tears rolled down their faces. My daughter became more affectionate with me and was more open to my warm physical contact instead of shrugging me away.
She stopped complaining that her brother was getting more attention than she was.
Bedtimes were going better too. Both children were relaxed at bedtime and fell asleep much more quickly.
They were spending more time playing together for long stretches without any disagreements or upsets.
The list went on.
And then, the holidays ended. As the holidays came to an end and we got back to work and school, we cut back on the nightly wrestles but our tradition continued every Sunday night.
No-one predicted the quarantine
We could have never have guessed then that in a few short months later we would be thrown into the Coronavirus pandemic, and quarantine. Once again we found ourselves spending a lot of time at home together as a family, this time due to the quarantine restrictions.
Our world’s had been turned upside down. The children were home from school and my husband and I were both trying to work from home.
I did my best to explain to my children in words what the Coronavirus was and what the restrictions meant but I knew that children often make sense of the world through play.
I could tell my children were feeling the effects of the shut-down:
They were missing their friends, they were bored and whining a lot, they were fighting with each other. All of these are signs that they were feeling disconnected and off-track.
I sensed they needed something more…I was doing regular one to one play with my children through Special Time but I sensed they needed something more. They were both more highly strung than usual, especially at bedtime.
And then I remembered the difference that family wrestling had made back during the winter holidays.
Anthony DeBenedet, M.D and Larry Cohen list 6 benefits to this type of play in their book, The Art of Roughousing, which include boosting self-control and social skills, stimulating the brain's emotional, language and logic centres, better problem-solving abilities. This play is also great for physical fitness and works well as a safe outlet for aggression.
I remembered our increased laughter and togetherness. The wrestling brought us closer and diffused our tension. If I wanted to keep connected with my kids during the quarantine, I knew what I had to do.
So, I brought back the wrestling!
What had changed?
My husband and I did not feel resourced enough to wrestle every night but we began wrestling again whenever we could, which has ended up being several times a week.
The children are eager participants and throw themselves into the wrestling enthusiastically. I've noticed this time around that our wrestling has become a lot more physical and there is a lot more laughter.
It feels like the current situation had wound us all up a bit tighter.
It feels so good for me to use my physical body!
To be able to “fight back” given the current situation, when I've felt so powerless. It feels like I am taking action instead of feeling helpless.
And the children have loved the physical contact too, especially when we gang up against my husband and give it all we have.
They've wrestled hard with much sweating and laughter. There have been more upsets too, but again, when this happens, we pause the timer and welcome the tears for as long as was need to before jumping back in.
And once again, they always jump back in!
This is what we all need to keep connected with our kids during the quarantineThe children are relaxed and happy after these wrestles. They play together more readily and I see them return to being carefree children.
That's why family wrestles have become a regular feature of our parenting during the Coronavirus pandemic. It's brought us closer as a family, especially during this difficult time, and it has given the children an outlet for their energy and their rage.
Set up your rough and tumble play for success
Rough and tumble play is a great way to connect before bed or at any time during the day. It's especially useful in uncertain times, like now, during the quarantine. It diffuses energy and releases lots of tension for children and parents.
What: Rough and tumble play does not have to be wrestling. It can be any kind of physical play with lots of body contact. You might try piggyback races, bucking broncos, pillow fights or sock fights.
Agree Your Rules: Suggest no punching, hitting, or biting. And consider using a “safe word” to use if you need to stop play.
Play with Time: If you want to play before bed, as we do, give yourselves some time. You'll see a natural arc to the play that starts as the games rev everyone up. If you play long enough you'll also see a descent back into a calmer space. Experiment with what your kids need.
Let Kids Lead: Tune in to what makes your kids laugh most. Let them take the lead and, whenever you can, give them the upper hand. These are uncertain times. It feels hugely empowering to work off some of that stress together and for them to be able to shout loud and proud about their wins.
Need some game inspiration? Download 6 Great Games to Play Before Bed
This blog was originally published on 16th April 2020 on the Hand in Hand Parenting website here.
Pamela works with parents, supporting them as they strive to raise conscious, respectful children.