Tickling Can Have Negative Effects on Children, Experts Warn

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Tickling our children may seem harmless and fun but according to experts, it can have negative – even dangerous – effects. Sure, this may sound surprising or ridiculous to some parents but in viewed proper perspective, it actually makes sense.

In an article published by the New York Times entitled “Anatomy of a Tickle Is Serious Business
 at the Research Lab,” evolutionary biologist Richard Alexander wrote that ticklish laughter is “not the happy phenomenon that many have assumed it to be.”

He explained further that “A child can be transformed from 
laughter into tears by going the tiniest 
bit too far […] [Tickling] does not create
 a pleasurable feeling — just the outward
 appearance of one.”

In the past, the Han Dysnaty used tickling as a form of torture.

If we look back in history, you will find out that, yes, tickling was once used as a form of punishment by the Chinese, mainly because it caused intense suffering without leaving any marks.

Similarly, Ancient Rome tied up offenders, soaked their feet in salt, and allowed goats to lick them over and over.

The dark side of tickling is indeed pretty disturbing.

Several people, for example, looked back to their childhood and dreaded their experiences being tickled.

One person admitted:

“I hated and feared being tickled as a child and still do. It reminds me of gasping for my breath while being suffocated and unable to communicate.”

Another shared:

“My mother always tickled me even if I said stop. It was so frustrating because I wanted to show her that I was having fun with her, but I felt powerless and controlled.”

Meanwhile, one individual also said:

“I loved being tickled to a point, but several people would ignore my clear requests to stop. Gasping and pinned, it would often end in a panic attack for me that left me crying and running away to calls of ‘I didn’t hurt you! Don’t be such a baby!’”

It is, therefore, important for parents to know when to do it and when to stop.

Tickling can be utilized as a tool by a potential predator.

As Tracy Lamperti, a psychotherapist, cautioned tickling can be a part of the ‘grooming process’.

Lamperti explained:

“Gateways to the victim, […] [are] successive, thought-out strategies used by a perpetrator with the victim and/or the family in order to facilitate their being able to carry out the acts of sexual abuse on the child with the highest probability of being able to do it without getting caught.

“While not all adults who tickle children are paving the way to sexually abuse them, tickling is a good example of the grooming process. When trust can be won over and defenses can be disarmed, the offender is then able to have their way with the child.

“With the example of tickling, the perpetrator is able to publicly and/or privately tickle just a little bit. The act is carried out cheerfully and playfully. In this ‘controlled experiment’ the offender is able to see if anyone is going to set a limit, ‘Oh, Uncle John, we have a no tickling rule in our family. Stop tickling Sam.’”

So does this mean parents should completely stop tickling their kids?


Of course, not. But they should do it responsibly.

The ScaryMommy website suggested three good guidelines to observe namely:

1. If a child is too young to talk, don’t tickle them. Better safe than sorry.
2. Before tickling, ask. While it takes away the element of surprise, you can be playful about it.
3. Come up with a signal that means “Stop” if they’re laughing too hard to speak.

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