When Dr. Anthony DeBenedet would tell kids to go outside and play, you could probably find him playing right alongside them.
DeBenedet, a gastroenterologist and local dad, is also an author of two books that examine the importance of parent-child play in childhood development. The first book, “The Art of Roughhousing”, was co-authored with Lawrence J. Cohen. PhD, and published in 2011. The follow-up book, “Unplug and Play: The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to Roughhousing with Your Kids”, was published in March of 2023.
Inspired by an experience with his own daughter, DeBenedet wanted to share what he discovered with other parents.
“When my oldest daughter, Ava, was a toddler, she went through a serious mommy-only phase. Playtime, bedtime, get-on-her-clothes time- you name it- it was mommy’s territory only,” DeBenedet said. “Dad (me!) was forbidden in all areas of her life. But one day, I asked her to journey with me through the world of flying machines. Ava didn’t know what was in store, but she jumped on my back, I made a bunch of rocket ship noises, and we blasted up the stairs to her room for bedtime. She giggled the whole time.”
This rocket launch was the beginning of something new.
“That little physical play event moved me out of exile and onto a road of connection with Ava. It also inspired me to look deeper at the power of physical play between parent and child. I started researching and reading everything I could find on rough-and-tumble play. I even called an expert on the psychology of parent-child physical play, Dr. Lawrence Cohen, to learn more.”
DeBenedet’s personal research led to the creation of his first book, where he shares practical advice for parents who are looking to engage in a meaningful way with their children.
“Two years later, with the help of Quirk Books, ‘The Art of Roughhousing’ was released, coauthored by Larry and me,” he said. “Then, a little over ten years later, just this past March, we released ‘Unplug and Play’, a reboot of ‘The Art of Roughhousing’ with an aim toward showing how physical play between parent and child can be an alternative to screens.”
At a time when parents and educators are becoming increasingly concerned with screen usage, DeBenedet’s newest book offers alternatives that are proven to make children healthier and happier.
“Physical play (scientifically known as rough-and-tumble play or roughhousing, for short) between parent and child has many benefits for a child’s development,” he said. “ From intelligence (especially emotional intelligence) to problem-solving to resilience to creativity to parent-child connection, all seem to improve when a parent engages in physical play with their child. It’s really quite nifty. And it’s what hooked me on the subject because I knew working full time that I wouldn’t have a lot of time with my children as they grew. I wanted to make the most of the time I would have with them.”
DeBenedet has also authored the book “Playful Intelligence” that explores ways that adults can incorporate spontaneity, humor, wonder and imagination into their lives to create a healthier balance.
“I just hope that the messages and tips in the books help make the grind of adulthood a little more bearable for folks,” he said.
Get to know Dr. Anthony DeBenedet
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Flint, Michigan, but I grew up in Northville.
Duke University (Bachelor’s of Science and Engineering)
University of Michigan (Master’s of Science in Health and Healthcare Research)
University of Virginia (Doctor of Medicine)
Tell us about your family:
I’m married to my wife, Anna. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary. We have three daughters- Ava (17), Mia (14),and Lola (12).
I’m a practicing physician and I love magic. When my daughters were in preschool, I would come and do magic tricks for the students.
Favorite beverage and where to get it:
Coconut Batido at Frita Batidos.
Favorite way to spend a day off?
Exercising, doing a little something productive, and playing with Anna and the girls.
Writing, reading, basketball, hiking
Australia and New Zealand
Are you a book person or a movie person?
Hard one! I probably lean book, but I love a good flick.
Hidden gem in the A2 area?
Favorite season in Michigan is…
Summer. It’s hard to beat Michigan summers!