Wrestling With Your Daughter Is Good For Her…And Good For You

Photo by Luke Docherty

I have a confession. I like to watch grown men beat the heck out of each other on TV.

The first few times I sat down and watched a few mixed martial arts fights, my heart was racing; I was confused, I had no idea what was going on, but I liked it. There was something so primitive about it: no rules, just two people in a cage with no way out but victory. Yeah, that’s a little dramatic, I know, but you get the point.

Don’t get me wrong; I was already familiar with boxing, so the idea of watching a couple of guys punch the heck out of each other until one of them fell over with all of the grace of a kangaroo that had just been hit by a tranquiliser wasn’t foreign.

MMA on the other hand is a whole different beast. It doesn’t stop when someone hits the canvas. It continues, it’s brutal, it’s strategic, and it’s bloody beautiful. I love watching it.

Luckily, there’s an exciting form of combat that’s a lot less brutal and still very competitive. It’s called DDW (Dad Daughter Wrestling), or as the academics call it, ‘Rough & Tumble Play’.

A couple of years ago, a bunch of knowledgeable blokes and sheilas wrote a scientific paper about its role in animal communication and development.

Unfortunately, as they are academics (and don’t know how to write so normal people can understand them), it’s boring and harder to read than a mannequin at a poker table.

But the take-home message was rough-and-tumble play helps animals understand their place in society, regulate their emotions, and develop and evolve the way they communicate.

The good news is that, in general, what works for animals also works for us. This is hardly surprising, since we evolved from apes (or did we?).

There’s a whole bunch of things that determine how we interact and behave with our kids, and the impulse to grab them and wrestle around and get all primal is completely normal.

Even better, it’s good for them and you a number of levels.

Here they are.


There has been so much written about bonding with your child through play before and if you are a parent I am tipping you would of read at least one or two things about it. But now that she (or she … it works just the same) is older and bit less fragile, some friendly wrestling is a great way for dads to bond with their children.

Most of you won’t remember being two or three years old but put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and think about the most physically dominant force in their life. I do and every chance I had in my life to take on my old man Id have a shot at it, all in good fun of course. It wasn’t until a year or two ago, after I started training BJJ when I finally caught him, time and time again with chokes and armbars from everywhere. I convinced him that BJJ would be good for him, revenge was oh so sweet.

Think about it to them, you are a huge alpha male. A loud voice. Physically imposing. Scary as all shit when you lose your temper. Even if compared to most you are smaller of stature in the eyes of a child you are a dominant authoritarian.

Wwhen you decide to get down to their level, and wrestle around a little on the floor, you’re inviting them into your world. A world where they can mix it up with the big boss, and that’s a gateway into a world of self-confidence.

Impulse Control

The key to rough-and-tumble play is to know when to stop. If you need advice of when, just ask your wife; she will indicate when enough is enough.

If you accidentally hurt your child, you’ll know about it and you’ll bust out some hugs and make stupid actions or voices to change the crying from a deafening roar to a raucous laugh or at best a dull sob.

Just as importantly, they will learn to stop when they accidentally hurt you while you’re playing. This is unless you are raising absolute savages. In that case, tuck and cover because they will take their chances when they can. Generally nothing says, “game over” louder than dad cradling his recently stomped-on balls and calling a halt to proceedings.

This sort of lesson is key for kids to learn impulse control, and empathy for others.

Some Form Of Ethics

Off the back of the previous point, you being the alpha in the situation — who could clearly put your toddler through the wall with a flick of the wrist — carries a lot of weight.

But with you holding back the obvious strength you have, you’ll be teaching your child that being physically dominant should take a back seat to making sure that everyone’s having fun.

Body Fitness

Physically, wrestling is good cardio for both of you, and good strength training for your kid. They’ll be dealing with physical resistance from a monster that they have absolutely no chance of beating —– and that’s a great workout. Trust me, I’ve been on the other end of it in tournaments.

Mentally, they’ll be learning about taking calculated risks. They’re in a safe environment, where they get to try out new things that in an unregulated space might seem too dangerous to attempt.

Interestingly, some researchers from Australia, the Netherlands, and the UK recently teamed up to look at the effects of what they called “challenging parenting behaviour”, which included rough-and-tumble play.

What they found was that parents who engage with their children in more challenging ways were less likely to produce a kid with anxiety problems later in life.

The study also found that dads tend to “go easier” on their daughters than they do with their sons, which means dads who try to protect their “little princesses” might actually be doing more harm than good by toning it all down just because they’re girls. It is important to note that this is not the case in my household, as I have two girls who train BJJ. If I go too easy, they take advantage, and going back to the aforementioned statement about raising savages and them not stopping. . . yeah, welcome to my world.

Long And Short Of It

The short version is playing Barbie and Ken with your daughter is good, but can get boring for both of you. Pretending you’re The Undertaker and choke slamming her through a glass coffee table is a profoundly bad idea and may generate some unwanted attention.

There’s a middle ground in there somewhere which can help teach your daughter some really valuable life lessons while you both have an enormous amount of fun.

But remember, just like those awkward dates you had as a teenager, when either one of you makes it clear that it’s time for the shenanigans to stop, it’s really, really time to stop.


  1. Loved it bro… true life lessons!! Best of all … you finally got papa doc! Wrestling is the best way to bullyproof your kids and bond! Me and my dad wrestled since i started wrestling as a kid… that’s why im so good now!!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here