How 4 Year Old Boys Play - Rough and Tumble Not Okay?

Updated on March 17, 2010
M.S. asks from Murray, IA
14 answers

My 4 yo son goes to daycare/preschool two days a week while I work. He is "all boy". His idea of playing is running in circles with pretend lazers on his arm (yes, I let him watch "toy story" so now he thinks he's buzz lightyear) shooting his little boy friends who happily play back (problems start with this turns into poking and punching). Our other problem is some not so nice words he's picked up there "butt" "stupid" "shut-up" (well, I'm sure he's head that one other places before). So, the bad language I'm working on, explaining we don't call names because it's not nice and hurts feelings, etc, etc, I'm pretty sure I can get that under control if I keep at him about it. So my question is how can we expect little boys to play - seems like it's normal for them to want to be rougher than little girls and pretend "shoot guns" and wrestle - can I or should I be trying to get him to play, well, more like my girls? He has to take "time outs" at daycare when he gets too rough or won't "tone down" his play, which is what we do at home too. What do you mamas of little boys think - how do your sons play and how much "rough" is okay?

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answers from Davenport on

Testosterone=brute force! I have two boys, 4 and 2, and they too seem hardwired for battle, per say. Heck, when I was pregnant, it was 9 months of testosterone induced, side-smacking of my poor husband. It drove me nuts feeling so automatically physical. The only advice I have is to tell them what they can do. If they're kicking, tell them in they need to kick, kick a pillow. Or take them outside and let them kick or hit balls. Rough housing is fine, but you must set some ground rules. The where, the when... that we never fight out of anger. As soon as hitting/kicking starts, they are done.
I too have a "Buzz lightyear"! And my 4 yr old is right along with yours in the rude words. We, too are working on that. We don't get angry (that asks for more) we just give alternatives. Hang in there! I'm relieved that my #3 is a girl so there's a break in power battles!

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answers from Allentown on

I am so with you on this one... my son is 100% boy as well and big for his age (he just turned 4 and is 48 lbs.). A lot of the kids at the daycare are just as rough as him BUT smaller... soooo, my little guy tends to "seem" much rougher. Also - he's used to horse-play with my husband at home and I've had to remind him not to play too rough with him because they don't get it that the 30 lb kid he's tackling is not the same as daddy... I'm curious to see what everyone elses responses are too!!

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answers from Anchorage on

I have 2 boys, 4 and 6, and I can not count the number of times I have said "someone is going to get hurt!" :)

Boys are rougher, and it is normal, but I can see the need to tone it down for school. He will figure out that different behavior is expected of him at school than at home, but other than that I say let boys be boys!

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answers from Tulsa on

make sure he knows there are guideline to rough housing. No hitting at school period. wrestling I think is ok but the school might not agree. Tell him all wresting has to take place after school if the school doesn't approve. Which means you will have to wrestle him. But hitting is never acceptable.
Rough is acceptable by the location and what else is going on. If your at the grocery store ex rough is not acceptable there. There is a time and place for everything.

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answers from Cedar Rapids on

My 6-yr-old loves to play rough. If he knows it is ok he will run and jump on anyone and wants to wrestle and get dirty and play with rocks and sticks and frogs, etc. The past two years has been a struggle teaching him that he needs to watch how rough he gets. He knows now, for the most part, that he can play rough with some of the neighbor boys but one little girl is sort of fragile so he has to treat her nice and one 7 yr old boy has hemophilia so can't play rough or he could have a problem on the inside. With a watchful eye on my part I let mine play as rough as he wants and have just kept teaching him that he has to make sure that the people he plays rough with are OK with it too. Also, he gets it out of his system so he is not trying to wrestle with me! Hope this helps!


answers from Provo on

I think it's fun for them to wrestle and play as long as they are aware that other kids have feelings and can be hurt both physically and emotionally. Boys definitely need to be able to play hard, but I think they can be taught what is and isn't appropriate as far as treating others. Simply stated, I think rough is okay as long as it isn't dangerous to him or anyone else, and as long as he is being respectful of himself, others and property. Check out if you're interested in ideas for discipline, this site goes from time-out to helping kids move to a more mature moral plane, deciding for themselves what is right and what is wrong and why. I think it's got great advice for dealing with little boys especially. And I wouldn't worry too much, he sounds like a very normal little guy who's just trying to have fun and play. Hope this helps you!



answers from Omaha on

This is a challenge, especially in an era of cartoons and movies that "script" the play our kids act upon. You need a quick answer and I'm not articulate enough to sum it up, but I loved Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson Paige's book: The War Play Dilemma: What Every Parent And Teacher Needs to Know (Early Childhood Education Series (Teachers College Pr)) by Diane E. Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige.

It is so measured and balanced, discussing the positives that come from some "war play" but the safeguards that have to be in place in order for this play to be a positive processing experience! So often daycare settings simply outlaw this play because it requires nuance and time to set the problem solving boundaries. Good luck!



answers from Kalamazoo on

Well, my son 7 and my daughter 5 play like this. I think it's just the way it is and I'll save my breath for more important parenting. There is a line they shouldn't cross - meaning that they all need to be willing participants and nothing out right mean spirited or dangerous. I think when things escalate too far, then they should take a time out and be redirected to something else. They need to learn boundaries even with ruff housing. Daycare has to be careful to protect all children the are responsible for, sometimes they are probably more cautious then we would even be with our own children. I think the taking a time out or a break is a good idea. I also think that children need play like this to develop - even animals play like that when they are young!!!!


answers from Iowa City on

as a mom of two boys (ages 7 and 3), i can relate to the rough playing ....and the pretend lazers! :)
like you, we do not accept the name calling or hurtful language piece ....that has been made clear from the start and with me and my husband being consistent on that front, we rarely have any trouble along those lines now ....
i will usually allow my boys to "play fight" only if they are not physically putting their hands on one another ....the moment they start wrestling around and getting too rough, i intervene ....and explain that i would like for them to both remain safe and that this type of "playing" doesn't appear safe .....
they both attend montessori school and the culture in their school environment is always to show respect for one another they have this concept both at school and at home ...
it's been a lot of learning for me over the years since i am a female and it's harder for me to understand the male nature husband is less concerned with the wrestling around and will sometimes quietly say to me "honey, they are boys" :) i guess all in all, in everything, balance is key! if we find our balance and set safe boundaries for our children, helping them understand why the boundaries are there .....perhaps the solid concept of respecting one another will reach far and wide in our next generation ...that is my hope



answers from Wichita on

My husband was a wrestler in high school & he wrestles with our 2 boys (8 & 4). He started wrestling with them when they were toddlers. My boys wrestle eachother, but they do not wrestle other people outside of our home. The shooting things is normal (my brother & a friend of mine tried to keep all guns/gun play away from their kids: no shooters, lazers or even water guns & no shows like 'toy story' where there was shooting. my nephews & my friend's boys all started shooting eachother with their fingers). I wouldn't try to get him to calm down unless someone is screaming stop & he doesn't (he's a boy). He needs to get his physical energy out: running outside & someone to wrestle/rough house with. Boys are very physical & they need to exert that physical energy with play. It is just the way boys are. Most of my friends have at least one boy & their boys are just like mine.
One additional thing: punching, kicking, pinching & biting are not allowed in rough housing at my house (as I'm sure it not allowed in many houses). My boys know that that kind of play gets them in trouble.

God bless!


answers from Rapid City on

I have raised 2 boys and a girl and grew up with a sister and two brothers... I also worked at a day care as assistant director for 7 years and what you are saying is normal for boys. They like the rough play. We didn't have guns at the day care so they would make them out of legos and even use wooden blocks as guns. None of the boys I know ever grew up and shot anyone (aside from being in the military).

The bad words you are blaming on the kids at day care, I can promise you that the other mothers are also blaming the kids at day care including your child and none is to blame totally. Sure they might pick up some there but have you ever sat down with your child and watch some of the cartoons? Sponge Bob is a very popular cartoon but watching it one day with my granddaughter I was totally disgusted. There is no teaching value what so ever in that show and they degrade each other horribly. Do you or your husband ever say "shut up" when you are on the phone and they are up talking? I know my granddaughter's first cuss word was when she was 1 year old and I did something and without thought said "sh*t" Not long after she did something and we heard her say it. Ok ok so I did laugh while her mom gently told her we don't say that.. and I do watch it much more.

Relax and keep reminding that bad words aren't allowed and remember when they get to teens, no matter what you teach them, they are going to use those bad words and make you cringe each time.



answers from Des Moines on

My son and I were just at our friends' house yesterday with another 4 year old boy. Whenever these two get together it's pretty crazy, running, loud and very physical. The other mom and I tend to both be in the camp of letting them be to do what they want as long as no one is getting hurt. And they did get a couple of bumps during the afternoon, mostly unintentional. We had to intervene a couple of times when toys were taken from the little sister, but other than that they had a rambunctious good time.

However, I can see why it would need to be toned down at school, so perhaps you just need to work on what/when is appropriate or expected for different situations.


answers from Milwaukee on

I stuggled with the idea of rough play/gun play for awhile. For some time I felt like I was a terrible parent and that we must be doing something wrong. My dear aunt who has 5 boys let me borrow a book of hers entitled "Bringing Up Boys" by James Dobson. This was a great book that pointed out a boys need to be wild and exert that boy energy. But, it also discussed boundries. If you have time, I would highly recommend it. Otherwise, I would make sure your son knows that there are different rules/expectations at daycare and set your own guidelines for 'wild time' at home.

Good Luck:) to Sean 7, Murphy 5, and Molly 2



answers from La Crosse on

Since I have 4 sons and grew up in a house full of women, just to let you know - once they are "big enough" for dad to get it on it - it only gets worse! My dad and brother always felt that wrestling in the kitchen while we were cooking supper was the best! Boys play, but there is a line between fun and hurting someone - that's where it needs to stop. You have to make sure your son knows the difference. Plus, I would ask your daycare provider what their guidelines are - or if it varies based on the supervisor - this can help you try to keep things consistent at home for him. 4 year olds don't always recognize the thresholds and you are helping him to learn what is acceptable and what isn't. You need to start now, because it doesn't disappear . . . mine are 14, 11, 9, and just turned 4!

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