When my daughter was little, we learned how to make adults to gasp in horror with a playtime trick routine the two of us devised. She would stand on my shoulders. I would hold tightly to her ankles. Then she would dive to the ground, head-first, knowing I’d keep a vise-grip on those ankles and stop her descent before she hit the floor.

She’d come to a stop upside down, with her head at knee-level, laughing hysterically while all the responsible people gave us suspicious looks.

Nine years later, I have an excuse for our reckless fun: I was helping make her a better person.

That’s the main idea of a new book called The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, by Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD, and Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD.

It’s good news for dads everywhere.

From the book:

“Roughhousing activates many different parts of the body and the brain, from the amygdalae, which process emotions, and the cerebellum, which handles complex motor skills, to the prefrontal cortex, which makes high-level judgments. The result is that every roughhousing playtime is beneficial for body and brain as well as for the loftiest levels of the human spirit: social awareness, cooperation, fairness, and altruism.”

That’s the best bonus ever. Your kids get entertained AND you’re activating their amygdala? Awesome.

Plus, the authors say, children who engage in horseplay are more intelligent, more physically fit, and more likeable. I’m no PhD, but I’d wager dads who engage in horseplay are smarter, more fun to be around, and in better shape, too.

So quit reading this and go wrestle your kids. Throw them up in the air. Pounce them tomorrow morning in their beds. You owe it to them AND their prefrontal cortex.

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