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Want to hear something alarming?
Presumably due to our individualistic society’s valuing of independence and self-reliance, U.S. children are the least touched in the world (Heller, 1997). Caregivers tend to be less affectionate and are more likely to use it as a means of control over their children (Clay, 1966). Perhaps because of this and related reasons, children in the U.S. rate much higher on measures of insecure attachment and problem behavior compared to other countries where children experience more sensitive physical contact.Is Touch Beyond Infancy Important for Children’s Mental Health? Counseling.org
They are saying there’s a correlation between physical touch at a young age and problem behaviors later in life. Or, to flip that on its end… Well-bonded preschoolers turn into well-bonded teenagers who turn into well-adjusted adults.
So how do we get there? How do we tie those apron strings a little tighter? How do we create long-lasting bonds of happy memories that will build up their sense of security and minimize future rebelliousness?
- Set aside time to enjoy nature together, even if it’s just a quick nature walk around the block.
- Let your child tell you the story with wordless picture books.
- Declare one afternoon every night as family game night.
- Play some road trip games, even if you’re just headed to the store.
- Slip some tickle games into the cracks of the day
What’s that? You didn’t know there was more than one way to tickle?
HA! I’ve got eight! Straight from my family’s tradition to yours.
4 Tickling Rules to Follow
Before we jump in, though, let me re-iterate the Tickling Rules every family should follow. Teaching your child these rules will communicate respect and teach your child that it’s okay to have boundaries.
- No fake stops. If your child says stop (even while laughing) the tickling stops. No exceptions.
- Age matters. Your child will grow out of these games at some point and that’s okay. Hugs work just as well as tickles.
- Pokes aren’t tickles. Gentle fingers make things fun.
- This isn’t about you. Tickling is about connecting with your child. If they aren’t interested, don’t take it personally. Just pick a different game! The worst thing you can do is to end a tickle session with a sour expression that makes your child feel they have done something wrong.
Got those rules down?
Created in the lab of my own living room, these are the tickle games that earned me the most giggles, the most “AGAIN!”s and by far the most memories.
Tickle Game #1: Buzzy Bee
Buzzy Bee is a tickling game created especially for babies. It’s so simple, even an exhausted mom who doesn’t want to get out of bed can play it. (I speak from experience.)
- Lay down with your infant and put your finger in the air.
- Make a bzzzzzz sound and swoop your finger around until it finally lightly touches some part of his exposed chubby little body.
Eventually, just putting your finger in the air will be enough to prompt excited squeals of happiness. (Pavlov’s Law at work!)
Tickle Game #2: Tickle Spot
You know the game I’m Thinking of an Animal? Now replace it with I’m Thinking of a Tickle Spot. Only in this version, they only get ONE guess.
Guess correctly, and they get to tickle Mama.
Guess incorrectly, and…well… *wink*
Tickle Game #3: Favorite Kisses
This is one game my kids ask for EVERY single night before bed. It’s very easy to play, and doesn’t really have a lot of tickles, if you have one of those kids who likes the concept behind tickles more than the tickle itself.
It also is a great way to encourage creativity. I love discovering what “kisses” my Isabella has come up with that night!
Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:
- The Butterfly Kiss—eyelashes against the cheek
- The Eskimo Kiss— rubbing noses
- The Doggie Kiss—a nasty tongue swipe on the cheek. (Do overreact, if you child chooses this! He will be so excited to gross you out!)
- The Kitty Kiss—small little kiss on the nose
- The Ghost Kiss—blowing gently into his ear (expect a lot of squirms!)
- The Hug-n-Kiss—a strong hug, with gentle forehead kiss
- The Tummy Kiss—mommy blows on child’s tummy
- The Neck Kiss—mommy blows on child’s neck
- The Eye Kiss—mommy blows raspberries (gently!) on each closed eyelid
The Mommy Kiss
Of course, my last kiss is always the same. It’s the MOMMY KISS. mwah ha ha!
- Pin hands down for clear access to the cheeks and forehead.
- Kiss rapidly all over the face.
- Abruptly stop and ask “NOW do you know how much I love you?”
Yes = Express disbelief and repeat, adding tickles.
No = Express shock and repeat, adding tickles.
My three girls LOVE the Mommy Kiss!
Tickle Game #4: May the Odds Be In Your Favor
Tell your child that you’ve picked a number between 0 and 100. Ask them to see if they can guess your number. When they fail to guess correctly (because the House always wins), you win the right to tickle in the spot of your choice.
Tickle Game #5: Mom’s Orchestra
Did you know your child is really a one-child band? Here are the different instruments for you to choose from:
- Piano ~ play the back like a piano, particularly on either side of the spine.
- Drums ~ rat-a-tat on that cute little bum.
- Tuba ~ big tummy blows.
- Violin ~ rub your index finger back and forth under the neck.
- Trumpet ~ blow little raspberries on the neck.
- Bagpipes ~ place one finger in an armpit and blow on the neck at the same time.
“The Tickle Monster Laughter Kit is one of our favorites. Usually I’ll wear one tickle monster mitt and my 3-year-old will wear the other and we’ll take turns making each other giggle. The book and whole box set with tickle mitts is just the cutest. I’ve given it as a gift too. So sweet for memory making with my little girl!” – Christy Hall
Tickle Game #6: Tell You a Secret
Whisper “I have to tell you a secret!” to your little one, gesturing for her to come. Then lean super close to her ear/neck and whisper nonsense. These little whispers and blows tickle the hairs behind her ear and will send her into a mass of laughs.
When she pulls away (because she will) say, “Hold still! I’m trying to tell you a secret!” and repeat.
Tickle Game #7: The Chilly Finger
My 100-year-old house is pretty drafty in the wintertime. Poor old thing. On particularly chilly days, my index finger will decide (on her own, I’m completely innocent) to crawl into the closest child’s underarm cave to hibernate.
Ms. Pointer doesn’t move. She just sits there, nice and cozy. Her presence, however, sends my little heater into squeals and squirms.
Tickle Game #8: The Talking Backpack
This is a great tickle game for after a good nap. (Not before, or you can kiss any rest goodbye!)
First, hide under the covers with your toddler. Then say “SHHH! Did you hear that?” while running your fingers on the outside of the sheet. (It was at this point my 2-year-old Lauren would whisper, “It’s the Talking Backpack!” Gracias, Dora.)
With much excitement, let your toddler throw back the sheet and look around for the culprit. Repeat a few times, before letting your fingers crawl under the covers for one. last. tickle.
The REAL Purpose behind These Tickle Games
Everyone knows that a baby’s brain is stimulated by skin-to-skin touch, but did you know those benefits don’t stop at infancy?
Institutionalized infants who received hugs for an additional 20 min of tactile stimulation (touch) per day for 10 weeks scored higher in developmental assessments than those who didn’t.Genetic Psychology Monographs
Tickling is more than just a fun activity to play. It’s part of a deeper agenda. Someday, when these tickle games are long gone, each of my children will come to their teenage crossroads and make a choice:
- Will they let me stay on board their little ship of hormones?
- Or maroon me on an island and sail on alone?
I want them to invite me to stay with them through the storms of teenagehood. I want their hearts so tightly bound to mind, they would never dream of sailing off alone. (After all, I make a great danger-avoiding lighthouse!)
Gentle soft tickles (not pokes) are a good first step to secure a conversation stop at the future Teen table. (Which is going to come a LOT faster than you think!)
These tickle games provide a strong heart-rope! So start tying!
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The Benefits of Touch for Babies, Parents. Stanford.edu
Is Touch Beyond Infancy Important for Children’s Mental Health? Counseling.org
Enhancing Development Through the Power of Touch. UrbanChildInstitute.org
For National Hugging Day: 7 Ways Physical Touch Can Help Your Child. Waterford.org