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When kids grab, push, and play too rough: What it can mean

By Amanda Morin

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Why do some kids play too rough and grab or crash into things? It doesn’t mean they don’t care about other kids. Or that they have bad parents. Often kids who seem “pushy” or aggressive have challenges that make it hard for them to realize they’re being rougher than is acceptable.

Kids may roughhouse because they struggle with:

  • Knowing how much force they’re using. Kids may squeeze too tight when they hug or give a high five that stings. What they think is a light tap on the shoulder might be a shove.

  • Reading social cues. Kids may not realize they’re standing too close or that a friend is upset about how rough they’re playing.

  • Controlling impulses. Kids want that ball right now and don’t stop to think before they grab it. But afterwards, they might feel really bad about having been so rough.

It can also be hard for kids to know what’s appropriate from one situation to another. For example, maybe a concerned adult grabbed a child’s arm once in a busy parking lot. If the adult didn’t explain they only did that for safety reasons, the child may think that grabbing is OK to do with friends.

Dive deeper

Playing rough: What’s age-appropriate?

It’s common for toddlers and preschoolers to grab a toy they want to play with or to push somebody out of the way instead of asking. Most young kids are still learning how to play with each other. They’re still figuring out how to communicate what they want. 

But by the time they get to kindergarten or first grade, most kids have learned that putting their hands on other kids is too rough. They’ve also learned that other kids don’t like being yelled at, pushed, or grabbed.

Learn more about social and emotional skills kids develop at different ages .

Helping kids learn social cues

Some kids need help picking up on social cues. If a child keeps playing too rough, teach them to look for signs they need to play more gently. 

Start by talking about what you’re noticing. Explain how you see other kids reacting. Ask if the child is seeing the same things. If not, point them out. 

For example, you can say, “I noticed that when you grabbed the ball from Xavier, he looked angry. Did you see that, too?” It’s a good way to teach empathy and help kids start to see how their actions affect other people.

Learn more about how to help kids learn different types of social cues .

Next steps

Once you start helping kids recognize social cues, they may be less rough in play. If roughhousing continues to be a problem, though, talk with kids about self-control. You can also talk with family members and teachers to see if they’re noticing the same things. 

By observing kids and talking with others, you may start to notice patterns that can make your next steps clearer. 

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom