Should you be tickling your child?

Let’s face it, we’ve all done a spot of tickling in our time. It’s a natural form of play that children and adults both enjoy. But is it okay to tickle children? Or is it an innocent activity that we’re reading too much into?

Healthy play

Play is important for children – it’s the way they learn about pretty much everything in life, and how they prepare for school and other aspects of adulthood. But there are certain types of play that can help and hinder this development. Healthy play follows a set of guidelines (or rules) that allow the child and the adult involved to grow and learn together. This involves both the adult and the child to be either on even footing, or uneven footing with the child in the powerful role; never the adult.

This means the child during play should be the following:

  • The swiftest
  • The strongest
  • The smartest
  • The informed

As well as this role reversal, the child should also be:

  • Respected
  • Heard
  • Successful (i.e. the winner)
  • Safe

Following these guidelines should make for some happy playtime between adult and child. But this leaves tickling out in the cold a little bit, because when an adult engages in tickling a child, these guidelines are disregarded. And though the child may be laughing, seemingly enjoying themselves, the child is in a vulnerable position, which they have no control over.


Even though it’s the automatic response to tickling, this doesn’t mean that the child is having fun. I’m sure we can all remember a time when we were laughing too hard that we couldn’t speak, or even catch our breath. When this is a result of tickling, the child doesn’t have the ability to either move away, or say ‘Stop’.

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What you can do

Sometimes children will ask to be tickled, and parents may now feel unsure about what to do in this situation, conscious of not wanting to reject their child or put them in a vulnerable situation. If your child asks you to tickle them do so as usual, but keep your fingers about two inches away from their body, making the usual playful sounds and noises as you would during tickling. Watch how your child laughs, but doesn’t laugh uncontrollably. Let the tickling breathe in between spurts and allow your child to lead the play. They may want to tickle you in return, for example, to relieve some of the tension that tickling brings up. Let them. Or watch how they lie in wait for you to tickle them again, do so, but keep your fingers away from their body and let the child be in control of their laughter.

Let us know your thoughts on tickling – is it a safe fun activity to be enjoyed by everyone? Or would you rather your child not be tickled at all?