Well, lovely readers, something you should probably know about me: Sometimes things pop into my head to share that I normally wouldn’t otherwise and I get consumed with them until they are written. I believe in intuition. I believe in it in all contexts. I cannot say I believe in intuition and then ignore it when it eats at me. Without fail, I will share something and receive a comment or a private message telling me that this was something someone else needed to hear. This is one of those blogs.
In my family, we don’t tickle. In my family, we do not allow others to tickle our children.
Yes, it absolutely DOES make for awkward conversations with new friends when their tickling fingers come out. No, I don’t give a fuck.
I tell my girl Dana there’s a blog brewing. She’s all excited (because she’s a good friend like that) and asks what it’s about. “Tickling.” “But you hate tickling.” I am the mom known for hating tickling.
But here’s the deal. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME I speak out against tickling, I get the same feedback. 95% of people telling me that they hate it too, usually accompanied with panic-inducing horror stories and/or “I thought I was weird for hating it” confessions. 5% of the comments are to tell me to lighten up, it’s only tickling.
It’s only tickling. And yet, people speak of being humiliated by being tickled until they wet themselves. They tell me about how they felt pressured into allowing it by their parents/uncles/cousins/friends/whoevers. They remember – with feelings of panic – gasping for breath and begging to stop, but being tickled anyway. Guys, I have serious anxiety remembering this from my own childhood and while typing this blog. My heart has been beating so hard since this post popped into my head. THAT is not a normal reaction to some “pleasant” and “normal” part of childhood. That’s trauma. And for goodness freaking sake, I’m not the only one.
In my family, we don’t tickle our children because I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, NO! I KNOW, that my children are human beings who are entitled to total respect. In fact, I
believe KNOW, that children deserve MORE respect and care because they are not yet able to express themselves fully, especially in situations in which they are INVOLUNTARILY responding. I mean, let’s break it down for just a second…
A bigger person approaches a smaller person and initiates a physical action in which the smaller person becomes involuntarily submissive and laughs or gasps for air, involuntarily. Because there is laughter, the bigger person continues. If the child asks to stop, he/she is sometimes met with (unintentionally?) manipulative statements such as “it’s all in good fun” or “I just like to make you laugh” or “but you like it/were laughing” and if the child is anything like I was, he/she feels obligated by the adult’s words to allow this to happen to their bodies despite wishing it would end. This continues until the bigger, stronger person decides to stop.
If this were ANY OTHER physical act being DONE TO (forced upon) a child, we wouldn’t treat it so lightly. But because the involuntary response is usually laughter, we tend to deem it ok. (Yes, I do actually know it is supposed to be fun and the adult is usually* only trying to have fun. My point here is that it’s not always fun for the child.) *Please see references in post-script to see how tickling has been linked to other abuse.
My kids have been able to sign “more” since 9-12 months. In the VERY rare instances that we have given tickling a try, I have never seen them ask for more. I try so hard to teach them that their bodies are their own and they make the rules for who touches them and how. In one funny example, when Boo was four she was at a babysitter’s house and the babysitter asked her to clean up. She didn’t want to, so she said no. The babysitter repeated herself and Boo backed away and yelled “IT’S MY BODY AND I SAID NO.” Seriously could not have been more proud of her than I was in the moment that our friend relayed that to me. I just don’t see how I can teach my kids this crucial principle about their control over what happens to their own bodies and then say “except for tickling, you should let me/your brother/John Doe tickle you” (Whether explicitly stating it, implying it with statements as mentioned above, or most criminal of all, ignoring pleas to stop or not intervening when another adult takes tickling too far). No. That doesn’t make any sense. (Also, because I’m really passionate about adults not touching children in an unwelcomed manner, it’s why I boycott the TSA. Because in the same spirit, I will not say to my child “you have to allow this strange woman/man touch you even though you don’t want it (or “so we can just get on the plane to go see Grandma”), because they work for the government.”)
Using touch to respect and reassure my daughter.
So, you might be in that 5% and that’s ok. You love to see your children laugh, just like every parent does (I know I do!) and you see no harm in it because it wasn’t traumatic for you, or you know your child, or you stop when she says stop, or whatever. That’s cool, I can still blog, you can still read, we can still be friends. But please, just, for a second, please, please consider that a small child may do a lot of things to please you (if only that took the form of cleaning their rooms, eh?), and your small child might be like I once was, and may actually hate it, even if she goes along with it. If you are in the “it’s no big deal” camp, can you do me one favor and just chat with your family openly about whether or not they actually enjoy the feeling of being held down and tickled? Because my mom knew me very well, but she never knew how much I hated it. I am thirty-one years old and I panic at the thought of being tickled, and I know I’m not alone.
Hey, were you the one that needed to read this blog today? I’d love to hear from you.
PS – In a moment of anxiety after the initial posting of this blog, I did a little research to see what others were saying about tickling. I really enjoyed this piece from Attachment Parenting that discusses the dangers of tickling and of leaving the child feeling vulnerable, and of sending the wrong messages about how we treat one another’s bodies, but also with suggestions on safer tickle games. I also found this piece that discusses the absolutely terrifying truth that some predators use tickling as a gateway to more inappropriate behavior.
PPS – It occurs to me that some might find me overprotective because of my tickling ban, and I’m totally ok with that. I would much rather err on the side of caution and protect my children on this one. My own trauma still clearly haunts me.