Is tickling a cause for concern?

My son is a wonderful father to two preschool girls. He is devoted to them. My concern is that he often wrestles with them and tickles them. He blows on their stomachs with his lips and makes them laugh. They love it. I am certain that he has no wrong intention but might the children allow someone with different intentions do this to them?

Children learn very early to alter their behaviour in different situations. They learn:

  • to go naked in the bathtub but not in school
  • to run outside but not in the house (well, sometimes they learn)
  • to eat pizza with their hands but not spaghetti
  • to allow mom to give a kiss but not a stranger

Even preschool children learn that different behaviours are right and wrong because of the circumstances. They will learn that it is OK for dad to roughhouse and tickle with them but it is not OK for others to do this.

I know of many fathers who have tickled their children in the way you describe. It is typically fun and harmless and is often a game that the child loves. It is sometimes called giving a “buffalo” or a “raspberry” or a “zerbering”.  I am sure there are other terms for it. This type of play can be a very warm and healthy interaction between a parent and a child.

I don’t think you should worry about your grandchildren. Thank goodness your son plays with his children.

There are two types of tickling that are of concern. Sometimes adults or other children tickle to the point of the child being miserable. Excessive tickling can be torture. Sometimes children are unable to say “Stop” because they are laughing so hard. Laughing or smiling during tickling is no guarantee that the child is happy. Sometimes children who are ticklish are held down and tickled as a form of bullying. If the child is upset afterwards, the tickling was excessive.

In addition, tickling, as you suggest, can be a form of sexual interference. Some situations are obvious but some are difficult to judge. If the child or an adult who sees the tickling is uncomfortable, then the tickling should be stopped.

Tickling that is fun for all concerned is not a problem. No matter what the reason for tickling, no child should be subjected to unwanted tickling.  Sometimes tickling is not a laughing matter.

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One Response to Is tickling a cause for concern?

  1. AEG says:

    I couldn’t agree more that “sometimes tickling is not a laughing matter.” Since I wrote a kind of tongue-in-cheek reprimand to tickle attackers recently online, I have been curious to see what else is out there for information that others can learn from. Thanks for taking the time to highlight the unpleasant side of tickling in situations where those being tickled are left feeling disrespected and/or powerless.