Suzanne Tobias

Fun horseplay is nothing to worry about

It's taken a while, but I can finally watch my husband hold our son upside down, vampire bat-style, and swing him back and forth just inches above the floor without gasping and running out of the room.

I've learned to accept, if not embrace, roughhousing.

So I smiled when I saw a new book titled "The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It" (Quirk Books, $14.95).

Anthony DeBenedet, a doctor and a father of three, partnered with psychologist Lawrence Cohen, author of "Playful Parenting," to write the overdue salute to pillow fights, fireman's carries, mattress jumping and other rough-and-tumble activities.

"Sadly, among today's families, roughhousing barely limps along on life support," the authors write.

"What was once a motto of Safety First has evolved into a fretful new motto of Safety Only. Many parents are more frightened by skinned knees and bruised feelings than life's real dangers: stifled creativity and listless apathy."

The men claim — and I agree — that active physical play nurtures kids' bodies, brains and souls. It makes them smarter, more joyful and physically fit. It helps them manage emotions. It builds friendships and parental bonds. It teaches self-control, fairness and empathy.

That's worth a few grass stains and rumpled bedspreads, no?

We spent a day with friends recently, relaxing and chatting on their backyard patio. As afternoon morphed into evening, our gaggle of kids romped and tumbled in the yard, playing soccer and tag. Every now and then we'd hear a scream, sometimes a chorus of them, in the darkness. I joked about what the neighbors must think.

Matthew, a father of four, said he had talked with a neighbor shortly after moving into the house. He wanted to apologize for the boisterous noises that he knew would be noticeable in the serene, upscale neighborhood.

"Don't apologize," the woman told him. "It's nice to hear kids playing outside."

Indeed, the only roughhousing some kids experience these days is the virtual horseplay in video games. DeBenedet's book not only advocates for rowdy play but offers detailed instructions for the uninitiated or anxious parent.

I laughed at the "Lumpy Cushion" on page 38, one of my husband's favorites. (Sit atop child on couch, complain that the cushions seem lumpy, feign surprise when you realize the lumps are your kid.)

Randy, Jack and Hannah also love the Human Cannonball, the Ninja Warrior, the Cliffhanger and the Wacky Whirling Dervish, though none of us realized these activities had names.

Our family could add a few entries to the new roughhousing guide, including Beast Fight and Slap You Silly. And there are some in the book that my kids can't wait to try, like Futaleufu Mattress Rafting (riding a mattress down a staircase).

Do me a favor and pardon the screams.