This piece was originally published as a guest post on Tales of the Kitchen Witch in December 2012.
When I was a preteen, I remember my brother tickling me to the point of crying. I'd be yelling for him to stop, begging him to stop. He would point out that I was laughing, so I must be enjoying it. I do not ever want my children (or anyone, for that matter) to be put in that position.
Babies can't even tell you they don't want to be tickled. But they are so much fun to tickle! There has to be a way to respect our babies' autonomy and still (possibly) enjoy a good tickle, right? There is! I have some suggestions for you.
The most important trick to any tickle game with a baby is anticipation. If you can give them a chance to anticipate (and to learn when to anticipate) the tickle, you give them the opportunity to object.
With Sasha, I would make tickle hands and chant "Gonna, gonna, gonna" (think Jaws music) as I got closer, then "Get you!" as I tickled her.
Sasha would also run away and back to me for more tickles.
Also? OMG Look at that chub!! I do love to fatten up my babies!
Here comes the next important tip: Short bursts of tickling. I would never tickle a child to breathlessness. It can be fun for both the tickler and the child, sure, but I want to make sure children are capable of communicating "stop" to me when they feel it necessary. It can be difficult and awkward to enforce this with other people tickling your child (even older siblings), but I really feel it is an important lesson. If any child says "stop" - that should be heard and respected. I think of this helping to prepare them for other sticky situations later in life.
Back to fun tickling! With Spencer, I hold up my thumbs and index fingers like pincers. I tap thumb and forefinger while making a "tick" sound. I do that a few times before diving my fingers to him and saying "tickle, tickle, tickle!" as I tickle him. Three "tickles" is probably long enough for one burst in the beginning. As he has gotten older (he is a ripe, old 10 months old now, after all!), he reacts to the preparation. When I hold my fingers up and make the sound, he often giggles preemptively! This lets me know that he enjoys the game!
Love to nibble your babies? Oh, I do! I love to nibble around their little, fat, ticklish necks! Find a way to help your babies anticipate the nibble. I open my mouth wide and snap it shut while making an "Om!" noise. I do this a few times before I "Nom, nom, nom!" on them. (This munching is also awesome on ribs, especially on babies that are upside down!) This is one that will surely elicit preemptive giggles if it is a game your child enjoys.
I'm sure you're familiar with This Little Piggy and Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man. Both of these nursery rhymes are great build-up to tickle play. They offer other learning benefits, too.
How did you feel about being tickled as a child? How do you feel about it now? Do you play tickle games with your children?