The expression of care in the rough and tumble play of boys.
Article Type:
Statistical Data Included
Boys (Behavior)
Play (Psychological aspects)
Caring (Psychological aspects)
Intimacy (Psychology) (Case studies)
Reed, Tom
Brown, Mac
Pub Date:
Name: Journal of Research in Childhood Education Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2000 Association for Childhood Education International ISSN: 0256-8543
Date: Fall-Winter, 2000 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 1
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Abstract: Rough and tumble play (R&T) is widely researched in relationship to social affiliation and the cognitive benefits to the participants. One less-researched aspect of R&T is the affective dimension, more specifically, the way in which boys care for one another through R&T. This qualitative study examined pre-adolescent boys participating in R&T and the ways in which they expressed care and intimacy as a result of their participation. The subjects were videotaped while engaged in their favorite R&T play in their natural surroundings, and were asked to view the videotapes and offer their personal interpretation of the R&T experience. The participants in the study were clear on where and when it was appropriate to express care and intimacy for one another, which often is contrary to traditional ideas about play and recess. The need for teachers and administrators to reconsider the importance of R&T as one way boys express care, fondness, and friendships toward each other is emphasized.

Play has never been universally defined in the literature. Perhaps no simple definition can be determined, as there are as many different interpretations of play as there are cultures in the world. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) suggests that play is supposed to be fun and something to be "felt," not necessarily "done." This qualitative study focuses on a specialized type of play referred to as rough and tumble play (R&T), and is rooted in pedagogical theory. Piaget and Inhelder (1969) found that R&T begins in the preoperational stage and continues into concrete operations, following a predictable developmental path. From the Piagetian perspective, R&T combines both physiological and experiential abilities, and precedes games with rules. Piagetian theory stresses that play functions to create symbols and schemas needed for an idiosyncratic view of the world. Finally, cognitive development provides the foundation for play, including exercise play, symbolic play, games with rules, and games of construction (Parten, 19 32), all of which are clearly visible during R&T. For Vygotsky (Cole, John-Steiner, Scribner, & Souberman, 1978), play is more a function of culture than it is a developmental process. Vygotsky supports the notion that play is an attempt for the child to gain mastery over his or her destiny and function within the culture. From the Vygotskian perspective, play is a tool used as the child becomes a participant in his or her culture. Therefore, R&T is a function of culture and is learned behavior necessary for membership.

Despite the above interpretations, the literature on R&T is somewhat limited. This may be due in part to the fact that research has focused more on the negative effects aggressive play has on behavior, rather than any potentially positive cognitive or social effects (Goldstein, 1995).

Rough and Tumble Play

Rough and tumble play was brought to popular notice by Harlow's (1962) research with Rhesus monkeys. Harlow described the basic tenets of R&T as running, chasing and fleeing, wrestling, open-hand slap, falling, and play fighting. Children routinely chase one another with no intent to capture their victim. Those who engage in wrestling as part of R&T do not intend to hurt their partners. There is much slapping or pushing in R&T that remains merely playful, yet there may be feigning of injury. These socially driven and playful, yet somewhat aggressive, behaviors Harlow described also should include the "play face." Harlow described the "play face" as opened-mouth, teeth-bared expression, which looks fierce but actually denotes that the intent is non-aggressive and playful. Children frequently use this same "play face," accompanied by smiles and laughter, to communicate that their rough behavior is R&T and not aggression. Conversely, aggressive behavior includes the infliction of bodily harm, and is characterize d by visible signs of resentment and lasting anger. Blurton-Jones (1976) concluded that the same characteristics and strategies of R&T discussed by Harlow also applied to children playing in a nursery school. While R&T is observed equally in both genders in the Rhesus monkeys, research on humans has focused primarily on males (Blurton-Jones, 1976; Fagot, 1984; MacDonald, 1992; Pellegrini, 1988, 1995; Pellegrinni & Perlmutter, 1988). During the present study, girls were observed engaging in classic R&T behaviors on a number of occasions; however, this research was limited to boys.

R&T is pervasive in Western culture and has been institutionalized or ritualized in major spectator events such as soccer, football, basketball, hockey, and stock car racing. According to Sutton-Smith (1992), R&T behaviors have become institutionalized in such time-honored games as Kickball, King of the Mountain, and Red Rover, as well as the classic "I'm Gonna Get You/You Can't Catch Me" game played by toddlers. In addition to being fun for the players, there are benefits to children who participate in R&T. Pellegrini (1994) has clearly established that engagement in R&T is positively correlated with social problem-solving ability and academic achievement among boys. Social competence is developed through alternating role taking, negotiating give-and-take, deciding who follows and who leads, and exploring social dominance. Furthermore, academic achievement is related to social adjustment and competence in problem solving, which are both refined during R&T (Pellegrini, 1994).

Caring in R&T

Noddings (1992) describes "to care" and "to be cared for" as basic human needs. Caring does not adhere to a prescribed formula, making it difficult for schools to assist children in learning to care for other human beings. In addition, gender- and culture-based factors must be considered when teaching children to care. It is apparent that boys and girls have different perspectives on intimate relations and different interpretations with regard to connection and expression of care (Noddings, 1992). Elementary schools are often governed by the feminine perspective that considers pushing, hitting, shoving, or games of chase and flee (factors common to R&T) as inappropriate behavior.

Aggression and R&T

All physical activity is inherently risky (Fagen, 1981). R&T has the appearance of being aggressive, which explain part of its appeal to young boys. Women are more likely to view R&T as aggressive, while men are likely to see it as play (Conner, 1989). The uninformed observer of R&T may see tripping, pushing, or hitting as fighting; indeed, one definition of R&T is "play fighting" (Blurton-Jones, 1976). Play theorists have attempted to explain the difference between R&T and aggression. Donaldson (1976) theorizes that what is actually being observed is hugging, loving, compassion, embracing, mutual sharing, and concern for one another masked as aggression. He states that the R&T player is saying, "I trust you to push me, trip me, fall on me, and if I get hurt you will care for me" (Donaldson, 1976, p. 239). Research has documented that R&T is a distinct category of behavior that is separate from aggression (Blurton-Jones, 1976; Sutton-Smith, 1992). Pellegrini (1989) found that R&T breaks down into aggression in less than 3% of all cases and consumes less than 11% of all playground activity.

Friendship and R&T

The Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (1994) defines a "friend" as "one attached to another by affection or esteem." The Oxford American Dictionary (1999) further defines friendship as a relationship. Other definitions of friendship include such aspects as intimacy, mutual support, voluntary reciprocity, sacrifice, and reward (Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996). Ginsberg, Gottman, and Parker (1986) found essential ingredients of friendships to include intimacy, affection, and ego support. Many researchers agree that the concept of friendship is a social construct that involves reaching a shared meaning, and that it does not necessarily come naturally (Bukowski, Newman, & Hartup, 1996; Burk, 1996; Lawhon, 1997). The arena in which children choose to build this knowledge is play that further enhances their social skills and leads to stable friendships (Lawhon, 1997).

The literature suggests there is a relationship between R&T and caring friendships, and therefore the research question used for this qualitative study was: Do boys use R&T to express care for one another and to develop friendships?


This qualitative study examined the way in which primary school age boys engage in R&T, and described their interactions and relationships with each other in their natural surroundings. The importance of this research was initially demonstrated by Karl Groos in 1901 and brought to mainstream research by Blurton-Jones in 1967 (Pellegrini, 1995). The value of qualitative research is well-documented in the literature (e.g., Eisner & Peshkin, 1990; Flinders & Mills, 1993; Noffke & Stevenson, 1995). A critical element in this research is the phenomenological interview, as described by Seidman (1991), which employs open-ended questions with the specific purpose of building upon the participants' responses. For this study, boys were videotaped while engaged in R&T; later, they were asked to view the tapes and give their personal interpretations of the R&T experience. Reliability and validity were achieved by using techniques described by Lincoln and Cuba (1985).

Prolonged engagement, which allowed for learning the culture and establishing trust, encompassed a total of 30 hours of observation over three weeks, resulting in the recording of 10 hours of play. Of those 10 hours, three consisted primarily of R&T. Persistent observation resulted in the recording of several types of R&T, including one game that would become the focus of this study. Triangulation involved the participants interpreting play previously videotaped by the researcher. This process was also audio- and video-recorded and later transcribed for further data analysis.

Finally, three early childhood researchers reviewed a segment of R&T (taken from this study), achieving an inter-rater reliability of 97.4% in recognizing R&T as described by Harlow (1962). While the participants initially "hammed it up" for the camera, they quickly fell into normal play routines. Any play that appeared to be contrived was omitted from this study. Due to unexpected and extremely loud noise interference, audio was not recorded during outdoor play.


The criteria for identifying and recording an episode as R&T included reciprocal role taking, the play face, vigorous movement, and alternating between the roles of victim and victimizer (Pellegrini, 1995). The first step of the data collection was the videotaping of all play that included R&T (see Table 1). Play that was determined to consist of R&T was re-recorded on a separate videotape to be used at a later date. A specialized game, evident and identified by the participants as "Smear the Queer," became a primary source of R&T.

The same procedure was followed by the researcher in the recording and re-recording of examples of care during R&T (see Table 2). It should be noted that although every attempt was made to avoid leading questions, occasionally the researcher did "tease" out answers when participants seemed to have difficulty finding words to describe their thoughts. The final step of the data collection was the creation of two separate videotapes that were viewed by the participants, one for examples of R&T and one for examples of caring behavior.

Participants were involved in two individual interviews, plus one final group experience. During the first interview, the participants were asked to view and comment on R&T episodes in which they were featured. Each participant was asked specific questions (see Table 3) about the same episodes to determine whether or not they viewed the play episodes as R&T. The participants were videotaped

watching the previously recorded play episodes. Later on, typewritten transcripts of the interview were made. During the second interview, the exact same process was repeated, except that it emphasized caring behaviors (see Table 4). In the third and final data-gathering experience, a group of children viewed episodes of caring behaviors in which the researcher allowed the participants to respond spontaneously in an uncontrolled environment.

Setting and Activity Schedule

Observations were conducted in a youth center for school-age children within an Air Force military installation located in the southeastern United States. Children were videotaped during a 10-day period from 2:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. during free play (supervised but unorganized). The director of the youth center announced to the students that they would be videotaped while playing, but gave no further directions or instructions. In addition, staff members were asked not to intervene in play that the researcher was videotaping. Parents were informed in writing that the research was taking place and were asked to grant permission to videotape their child. During this time the researcher acted as an observer and did not interact with the participants during the collection of data.


The student population of the youth center was composed from a diverse socioeconomic background, including Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White children. No specific figures regarding income levels or racial make-up were available. The youth center was strictly for "enlisted" personnel's children, however. Inclusion in the study was based on whether the child routinely decided to participate in R&T. Seven boys, whose ages ranged from 6 years through 9 years (mean age=7.42), routinely engaged in R&T. Girls did not routinely choose to engage in R&T, although some were occasional participants for short periods of time. The racial makeup of the participants (four Caucasian and three African American) was incidental and dependent upon the self-selection of the participants.

The participants were those boys who routinely chose to engage in a game they called "Smear the Queer." They were selected as a result of their sustained play in a game that encompassed R&T behaviors and exhibited evidence of caring. The following is a brief description of each participant. Kevin (age 9) was the self-appointed leader, as he claimed he had control over who was invited to play. Indeed, Kevin controlled the tempo most of the time. Brian (age 8) enjoyed playing R&T, but was more tentative than the other players. When talking to the researcher, it seemed Brian was much more likely to say what he thought the researcher wanted to hear. Jake (age 8) played a passive role and was less definitive in discussing more intimate aspects of the game. Perry and Patrick (ages 7.5), identical twins, were very animated about their participation in R&T and very articulate during the interviews. Zach (age 8) was very descriptive and could clearly articulate what aggression looked like. Linden (at age 6, the younge st participant) was very aggressive and enjoyed physical contact immensely. He liked Kevin the best (as did all of the other players) because "he can push all of us" and "The last time we jumped on his back, he fell down," referring to Kevin's playful nature and willingness to take his turn as the victim.


In all, 119 demonstrations of R&T (see Table 1) were observed, taped, and analyzed. Selected episodes of R&T were viewed and discussed with the participants by the researcher. Sixty of the R&T episodes were observed during a game that followed the "tackle the boy with the ball" format and referred to by the participants as "Smear the Queer." It should be noted that despite the repugnant nature of the name Smear the Queer (hereafter referred to as "Smear"), it was the players who coined the term, which was not used in any other context.

An analysis of the data clearly indicates that R&T is indeed a means by which boys express care and intimacy for one another. There were 73 demonstrations of caring and intimate contact observed (see Table 2) during the 119 episodes of R&T. In addition, these data indicate that all R&T episodes, except those involving non-playing intruders, occur within the context of friendships and caring relationships. The following findings were commonalties that emerged from the data and were shared by all the R&T episodes. More specifically, analysis of the data revealed the following six findings:

1. R&T provides the opportunity for the declaration of friendship and caring relations

2. R&T involves intimate contact that is met with understanding by the players

3. R&T resembles a ritualized type of play that requires specific knowledge

4. All of the regular R&T players knew or observed the rules

5. Knowledge of rules separated R&T players from intruders

6. R&T resulted in one minor injury.

R&T Is a Declaration of Friendship and Caring

In choosing to play the game of Smear, the seven participants were declaring their friendship. They felt that R&T gave them an opportunity to show that they cared for each other. Kevin claimed that the seven who played Smear together were friends. The aggressive nature of Smear (which is very much like that in American football) is one of its attractions. For example, Linden and Jake liked playing Smear with their friends because they liked to be tackled. Linden also said, "When we play Smear we get to be with our friends." Patrick expressed similar feelings and remarked that during Smear, "We are all friends and we play together all of the time." However, not all of the players perceived the game in exactly the same way. Brian stated, "Most [of the players] are my friends; some aren't. It doesn't really matter. We are having fun."

There were several other things players did as an indication of care. For example, when one of the players fell or was knocked down, a delay of the game was called while the player gathered his composure. In another episode, Perry lost his glasses while being tackled. Zach shook the sand off the glasses and handed them back to Perry. When asked if Zach cared about him, Perry smiled demurely and said, "Yes." When Linden observed Zach dusting off Perry's glasses, he described it as a "friendly" thing to do. Brian characterized the same scenario as friendship more cautiously: "Not if they are acting but if they're really good friends." While watching an extended play scenario involving Patrick and Zach, Linden was asked if the pair were friends; he agreed, stating, "They must [be] because they been playing for a long time." It appears that friendship was considered by the participants to be a prerequisite for participating in R&T.

Several of the tackles during Smear resulted in a pile of bodies on top of one another, which often resulted in the boys checking to see if the fallen were hurt. When asked why they wanted to check on each other so much, Perry thought for a moment and said, "Well, we're best friends" and "We're like brothers." Zach added, "Well, if they get hurt we take them to a grown-up." When asked why he did that, Zach simply stated, "He's my friend." Brian also thought that some boys checked on their fallen friends for reasons other than friendship: "Well, they don't want to get into any trouble so they act nice to either person." The trouble Brian was referring to was with teachers who were not supportive of boys playing Smear. Friendship also received credit for acts of forgiveness. One time, Kevin pushed Patrick rather aggressively into Zach. When asked why he did not retaliate, Patrick simply replied, "Because we're friends." Kevin was very concerned because he knew that he had pushed a little harder than necessary, and so he went to see if Patrick was hurt. In summary, R&T appears to be the vehicle in which friendships are nurtured.

R&T Involves Intimate Physical Contact These R&T participants seemed to display a healthy respect for personal boundaries expressed through physical contact that, at times, was quite intimate. The participants knew what was considered appropriate touching during R&T, but were less certain when outside of the play arena. This lack of certainty was evident in responses to questions regarding whether it was appropriate to touch when outside the realm of R&T and, if so, where on the body was touching permissible. While observing Smear, it became evident that physical contact was often more than just an incidental part of the experience. The participants would allow themselves to be grabbed by their arms, legs, and/or crotch area before a collapsing into what Kevin described as a "puppy pile." After being tackled, the boys would often linger on the ground, laughing, with their bodies remaining in physical contact. Other times, particularly during lulls in the action, participants would walk around with their arms around each other or, on at least one occasion, holding hands.

The participants were certain that the boys who were physically touching were friends, and that "hanging on" or walking arm-in-arm was perfectly acceptable within the context of play. Perry commented, "They have their arms around each other because they are friends." Brian contributed, "They look like buddies because they are hanging around together." When pressed by the interviewer, the players would agree that hanging on to each other was similar to hugging, but they would not choose that terminology themselves.

When asked if this type of touching is permissible outside of the play context, the answers varied by age. Linden (age 6) thought it was acceptable to put his arm around anyone at anytime he pleased. Jake (age 8) was noncommittal, claiming that he didn't know. Kevin (age 9) was positive that any time other than in the Smear or R&T arena was not a good time to have his arm around another boy. Because the number of participants was low, it is not possible to make a generalization about what could be an age-related finding.

The boys had a clear sense of what was appropriate touching by a friend within R&T. When shown a videotape of a boy being picked up by a friend who had his hand placed on the boy's derriere, the informants all agreed that this type of touching was okay as long as they were friends and just playing. It was quite another matter, however, when asked what they would do if someone who was not a friend touched them like that. The older boys would be more likely to take matters into their own hands whereas the younger boys would be more likely to seek help. Perry and Zach both claimed that inappropriate touching would lead to a fight. Brian and Kevin were far more vehement, stating, "I'll kill him." Patrick simply said, "I won't let him do that." Linden said, "I would tell the teacher." Jake was also clear in what to do; he claimed he would "get him off." The intensity of physical contact was markedly different for those who were considered friends versus those who were not friends. Clearly, the boys enjoyed physica l contact with their friends; however, that contact was limited primarily to R&T play.

R&T As a Stylized Type of Play

This finding supports Donaldson's (1976) conclusion that R&T is ritualized and symbolic of aggression, but not real aggression. There was a predictable rhythm or pattern to the game of Smear. In fact, the behaviors involved in this game were so routine and predictable that they could be considered almost ritual in nature. Despite the negative appearance of Smear, the participants respected the rules of engagement and the seemingly aggressive yet respectful style of play. Those who did not know the rules or were unfamiliar with the style of play had difficulty playing with those who did. Any interruption in the play by a participant who either did not know the rules, or tried to change them, met resistance from those who routinely played together. New players were accepted, but only if they were willing to learn and follow the rules.

Recognizing a "play face" was something all of the players were able to do. Eye contact and body language clued the players into whether or not a player was being aggressive. The boy adopting a play face smiles, laughs, and uses eye contact to signal that even though his behavior might appear aggressive, he is still playing (Blurton-Jones, 1976). The Smear players knew the difference between the "play face" and an "aggressive or hostile face." They evaluated eye contact, facial expressions, and body posture to help make this determination.

Each one of the informants easily identified what a person looks like when he is angry. Common descriptors included drawn lips, scrunched eyes, furrowed eyebrows, and running too fast. Kevin was able to further identify aggression, as when a person "has his hands turned inward and arms outstretched like he's going to choke you. Perry added, "His eyes look bad." Brian said this about an aggressor's eyes: "They're probably stretched out wide." Those who attempted to play Smear but who could not read read or missed the nonverbal cues were rejected or ignored.

Other clues were used as invitations in R&T, such as juking (faking), hiding, and playful taunting. During Smear, a player would stand as though inattentive, as a way to get someone to chase him. Another player would hide behind a tree and peek out, trying to coax someone into chasing him. There would be playful teasing as simple as "You can't catch me," which often would be enough to get the others to give chase. Recognizing the play face, the invitation to play allowed each player not only to know that it was safe to play, but also to be vulnerable to others. This point was underscored by Kevin, who stated, "Well, what makes it fun is that we're all trying to work together to get somebody down. We're playing together." Brian further stated, "One person jumps on him and throws him down and everybody else goes after him. So we re working like a team." Clearly, recognizing the play face and knowing the style of play were critical to the success of Smear and other types of R&T.

Players Knew or Observed the Rules

The rules governing Smear were articulated verbally by older boys and understood by the younger ones. Linden, a younger participant, knew that the rules were not written down and that "somebody just taught us and you remember after the other day, after the other day" (meaning day after day). Linden knew that taking the ball when a player fell down accidentally was not fair, stating that "He gets to keep the ball." Kevin (the oldest and physically dominant) was the self-proclaimed rule-enforcer and chooser of players; he stretched the rules to his advantage, often hitting the players with more force while tackling or carrying the ball. When asked about this privilege, Kevin simply said, "I am the oldest and get to make the rules." Occasionally, an older and more physically developed boy would enter the game of Smear and instantly become the object of intense physical contact. This player was now granted the allowance of being more physical in tackling the younger players, as well as in being tackled, thus repl acing Kevin in this leadership role. Again, Kevin understood his place, stating, "He is bigger than me and gets to make the rules."

All the regular Smear players knew the rules that governed conduct and behavior. The major rules to Smear, as described by the participants, included: 1) taking turns tackling and being tackled while using only minimal force; 2) retaining possession of the ball when a player falls down accidentally; 3) tending to a player who gets hurt, and calling a teacher if needed; 4) waiting until the ball is thrown and caught before tackling a player; 5) chastising a player taking unfair advantage of a fallen player; and 6) recognizing that play face is an integral part of the R&T experience. Since the rules for Smear are not written, players recommitted to them daily. At times, a new rule could govern the game, such as a new boundary. However, unless embraced by the players, the new rule rarely lasted for more than a day.

The players' knowledge of Smear rules centered on the protection of the players' physical well-being without teacher intervention or direction. Safe zones were created to keep players from being tackled along sidewalks, trees, or other obstructions near the playing field. When a player needed a moment to gather himself, a simple declaration of "time-out" was mutually respected. They also would not use full force, knowing that would be unfair and would increase the possibility of injury.

Knowledge of Rules Separated Players From Intruders

The participants were asked how they knew if a player was an intruder or going to be aggressive. Linden knew aggressive players "because they start pushing and stuff when they get mean." Jake claimed that an aggressor's eyes would be "weird," and "If they are knocking you down and taking the ball, this would not be fair." Other characteristics included frowning, arguing, anger, and retaliating when tackled. When asked what he would do if a person who did not follow the rules fell, Patrick said he would "just let him lay there and get stepped on." Brian had similar thoughts on the matter (although he was a little more civil), claiming, "We don't get real mad," and "If somebody's not playing fair, sometimes we tell them not to do it." Smear players as a group would try to ignore the intruders, ask them to leave, or, as a last resort, disband until the unwanted player(s) left.

On at least one occasion, a few known aggressive players attempted to join in Smear and try to fool the participants by either displaying a play face or verbalizing their intent to follow the rules. Experience taught the players to be aware of this tactic and of individuals who had used it in the past. David and Malachi had a reputation for hitting too hard and not stopping the game when someone had fallen. Although the pair promised to abide by the rules, they did not, and so the game was stopped until this uninvited and unwelcome twosome left. Patrick spoke for all the Smear players when he said, "We'd all have to agree on this," indicating that a group decision had been made and all were in agreement as to how to handle intruders.

R&T Rarely Results in Injury

An evaluation of the 119 episodes and three hours of R&T reveals only one instance of injury requiring adult attention: Brian stepped into a low spot in the sand and twisted his ankle. This injury resulted from running and not from direct contact with another player. It also occurred at a time when no one was chasing him. Three other players came by to ask Brian if he was okay; another player, recognizing that Brian was in pain, scurried off to get a supervisor. The players believed that they would not get hurt playing Smear, but also acknowledged that teachers did not like them to play this game, because they feared someone would get hurt. Brian affirmed this view by stating that when it came to playing Smear in school, "Teachers won't let us." Kevin was of a like mind: "Teachers sometimes don't understand how we play, and they are afraid that we will get hurt."


R&T generally, and the game of Smear specifically, appear to be a staging area for caring friendships. To these participants, R&T is also a place for negotiation, problem solving, fulfilling their need to belong to a group, having intimate contact with friends, experiencing friendly competition, and developing a sense of community somewhere between the warmth and closeness of family and the isolation and indifference of the adult masculine world. The observations in this study clearly support both Donaldson's (1976) suggestion that intimate contact is established in R&T and Pellegrini's (1989) assertion that social competence is being developed. Only those boys who were trusted friends and competent in following the rules were welcomed into the game.

Early childhood literature, most notably that in the area of developmentally appropriate practice (DAP), seems to have adopted society's fear in not permitting intimate contact among males. Ignoring the research on R&T, some writers consider R&T to be a form of antisocial behavior (Ladd, 1983) that should be discouraged. In the first edition of the National Association for the Education of Young Children handbook on developmentally appropriate practice, Bredekamp (1986, p. 74) calls for intervention when children "get carried away" with chasing or wrestling. Yet, chasing and wrestling are two salient characteristics of R&T. Ward (1996) further suggests that aggressive play should be eliminated, failing to make a distinction between real aggression and play that appears aggressive.

This attitude may be changing. The latest edition of NAEYC's developmentally appropriate practice guidelines suggests that R&T is acceptable, but only for preschool-age children (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). The frequently expressed concern that R&T is too rough was not supported by the data in this study. Brian, the only child to be injured in three hours of R&T play, turned his ankle when he accidentally stepped in a low spot on the ground. Pellegrini (1989) asserts that aggressive play amounts to less than 5% of all play on the playground. Therefore, the often expressed fear that "someone will get hurt" is proven to be of low probability, with the benefits of R&T far outweighing the possibility of injury.

Boys in early childhood are very affectionate and enjoy physical and emotional closeness with their parents (Gilligan, 1982). Gilligan asserts, however, that boys as early as age 3 begin to gradually withhold outward expressions of feelings. Males are taught that "big boys don't cry," and that to "be a man" one must hold in one's feelings. Indeed, being the "strong silent type" is viewed as an attractive feature. This also may be the point at which males begin to hide their true feelings, and their voices go "underground" in a similar fashion to that which Gilligan (1982) speaks of for girls. The affectionate and emotionally expressive male finds that he will pay a price among his peers. As expressions of feelings and intimate contact are driven underground, they seem to resurface in R&T. Goldstein (1998) suggests that if more men were involved in the giving and receiving of care as an ongoing, central, and valued part of their lives, they would be as likely to espouse this viewpoint in a similar fashion as w omen. Present research clearly demonstrates that although males do care for one another, societal pressures force them to express that caring in a much different way than females. This attitude also may be changing as parents and society in general have become more aware of gender stereotyping, and fathers are becoming more aware of their sensitive side.

R&T appears to be used by boys as camouflage for expressions of intimacy and care. The very name chosen by the boys for their game, "Smear the Queer," is an act of camouflage. Fine (1986) suggests that the word "queer" maybe used to indicate "sissy" or "cry baby," rather than a homosexual. In any event, by using the name Smear the Queer, the boys declare that the game is only for the masculine. Yet, the underlying behaviors are in fact acts of intimacy, which in a different context could and probably would be misconstrued as homosexual in nature. The participants, except for the youngest, fully understand that touching each other is only acceptable in the context of play. Imagine, for a moment, two 7-year-old girls who are best friends kissing each other as they part company. Now imagine two 7-year-old boys who are also best friends doing the same thing. The boys will likely be shamed for this behavior and taught that the masculine thing to do is "shake hands" and that boys do not kiss each other. This unwarr anted fear of intimacy among boys (homophobia) may actually retard intimate contact and, consequently, boys' emotional development. Suppression of R&T may be a further illustration of our culture's homophobia.

A survey of over 200 early childhood and elementary teachers suggests that they often interpret R&T play as aggressive, and that they attempt to discourage it (Reed, Brown, & Roth, in press). These teachers seem to be less interested in the potential benefits to children engaging in R&T and more concerned with controlling play. When teachers and administrators deny children the opportunity to participate in R&T, however, they deny them an opportunity to care for one another. Noddings (1992) stresses the importance of such opportunities to acquire skills in care giving and to experience care. For boys, there is much care expressed in R&T that does not fit within the framework of traditional means of expressing care. The authors join Noddings in suggesting that school personnel need to help students increase their self-understanding through reflection on their recreational choices. When boys are denied the opportunity to experience R&T, they are also denied one of the few socially acceptable ways to express car e and intimacy for another male. Miller (1994) refers to schools' denial of such opportunities as poisonous pedagogy; in other words, while ostensibly acting in children's best interests, schools may be doing harm to children.


An implication of this study is that early childhood and elementary literature should encourage R&T, recommending that school's design playground space suitable for its rough nature and allot time for R&T for those who choose this method of self-expression. Teacher education programs and programs for educating administrators should include information on the difference between R&T and aggressive behavior, as well as the nature of caring among preadolescent boys. Preservice and inservice educators should be led to examine society's stereotypes regarding gender and the concept of gender-appropriate behaviors. This study's findings also suggest that further research is needed to determine how children of different ages perceive intimate touching.

Boulton and Smith (1989) found that confusion between real fighting and play fighting can occur from misinterpretations of the play signal or because of cheating. Pellegrini (1995) found that play tutoring can enhance the development of social, cognitive, and linguistic abilities (Saltz, Dixon, & Johnson, 1977; Smilansky, 1968). A particularly interesting and potentially fruitful exploration would be to study the use of R&T to improve aggressive children's social competence. A baseline of the attitudes and values of educators and parents toward R&T should be established so that any changes could be documented. Finally, R&T among girls and cross-gender groups should be observed, to describe and assess what this type of play means to them.

Although there are many and varied definitions of play, there is at least one essential characteristic: legitimate forms of play (including R&T) must not purposely result in children's psychological or physical victimization (MacDonald, 1992). A child should never be unmercifully teased, pushed around by older or more physically dominating children, verbally abused, or made to perform rituals that are not appropriate for the situation. This is not tolerable. This study and its findings add to the growing body of literature supporting R&T as a legitimate form of play beneficial for the participants. Rough and tumble play, as well as other aspects of childhood, need to be examined in the context of childhood, not adulthood. Educators must learn to evaluate R&T's meaning for the participants. If educators are to develop a greater respect for childhood, they must respect the rights of children to be childish and to express themselves more openly through play.


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Table 1

Types of Behavior Demonstrated in R&T

Type of R&T Play                  Frequency

Tackling                             30
Chase and flee                       22
Light touching                       11
Pushing or shoving                    7
Avoided tackling                      5
Shadow boxing                         5
Picking up and dropping a player      4
Throwing dirt, sand, ice cubes        5
Hiding                                3
Juking (faking)                       3
Kicking the ball at players
against a wall                        3
Kick behind knee                      3
Pinching                              2
Tripping                              2
Climbing up wall with feet after      1
running start
Running up the sliding board and      1
jumping off
Arm wrestling                         1
Grabbing feet on monkey bars          1

Total                               119
Table 2

Types and Instances of Care During R&T and the Game

Caring Experience                Frequency

Helped the fallen player up          7
Hugged and/or had arms
around shoulders                     5
Lingering on the ground
after a tackle                       5
Brushed off clothing                 4
Jumped up and down with
hands on another's shoulder          2
Balanced player before
giving a gentle shove                1
Placed hand on buttocks              1
Held hands                           1

Subtotal Physical                   26

Non Physical, but Close

Checked to see if he
was okay                            11
Stopped the game until a
player catches his breath            9
Held game up while boy
composed himself                     8
Called time out when a
player falls accidentally            5
Helped find lost items               4
Walked with a player while
he regains composure                 3
Picked up glasses                    3
Called for or took the player
to the teacher                       2
Took hurt child to teacher           1
Called for teacher                   1

Subtotal Non Physical               47

Total Physical and Non Physical     73
Table 3

Questions Asked During the First Interview

Do you know who I am?
Do you know what I have been doing here?
What are they playing?
How do you play it?
Are they your friends?
Why didn't someone get hurt?
What would you do if someone were playing mean?
How can you tell?
Table 4

Questions Asked During the Second Interview

Do you know what we talked about last week?
Where was his hand?
Why didn't he hit him?
Why did he take him to the teacher?
What are these boys doing?
What can you tell by the look on his face?
What is happening with the boy's glasses?
How can you tell they are friends or care about each other?
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