5 Reasons Why Tickling Kids Can Be Harmful

Reasons Why Tickling Kids Can Be Harmfu

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Parents have been tickling their children for generations. While you might have considered it to be one of the quickest ways to improve your child’s mood and increase physical contact with them, have you ever stopped to think that your child might not be enjoying it as much as you think they are? Tickling could hurt them even if your intentions are good.

Tickling might bring on the giggles faster than any other game, but it does not mean your child is enjoying it. They laugh because they are unable to help themselves and cannot tell you to stop. It might leave a lasting impression on children, and many children may not associate tickling with a pleasant experience.

Let us have a look at the different aspects of tickling kids in this post.

Types Of Tickling

Our skin has different sensory receptors (cells and nerves) that help us feel different kinds of sensations. Tickling generally refers to two types of sensations, namely (1) (2)

1. Knismesis

This refers to the ticklish or itchy sensation you get due to a light touch in any part of the body. Many animals, including cats and dogs, have this reflex. The best example of this sensation is the feeling you get when a feather trails along your skin.

2. Gargalesis

This happens due to a heavier touch to ticklish parts of the body — the soles of the feet, underarms, the neck, the ribs, and the tummy are some of these spots. Touching these parts of the body induces involuntary laughter.

Is Tickling A Child Harmful?

In the 19th century, theorists, such as Charles Darwin, had suggested that tickling was connected with humor. However, scientists have debunked this theory and are of the view that tickling is more of a reflex (2).

Tickling is a game we usually play with children. However, children often feel helpless and out of control while being tickled. They cannot tell you to stop because they cannot draw breath, and you are likely to mistake their laughing for encouragement.

Many children feel paralyzed due to tickling and go to any lengths to protect themselves from being tickled. In fact, many adults state that they have felt very uncomfortable while being tickled as children (3).

While we, adults, might consider tickling as enjoyable for children, and while our intentions might be good, tickling can be downright uncomfortable for your child.

Why You Shouldn’t Assume Every Kid Loves Being Tickled

Like every other physical activity that requires contact with another human, tickling should also require consent. However, as tickling is often seen as a form of play, many people do not think it necessary to ask for a child’s permission before touching them.

The following are a few reasons why you shouldn’t assume your child likes being tickled.

1. They cannot stop giggling because they cannot help it

Even if they hate it, your children will be giggling helplessly and would not be able to tell you that they are not enjoying it. The laughter that occurs with tickling is reflexive and is not the same as what happens after listening to a good joke (4).

2. It violates their right to bodily autonomy

We have heard a lot about consent and how touching someone without their consent is a violation of their bodily integrity. It is necessary to ask whether your child is okay with being tickled.

3. It can be humiliating

Any person who is being tickled loses self-control. They are unable to state what they want, and they struggle to regain control. This can be humiliating for a child. Even if your intentions are good, the result may be hurtful to the child.

4. Tickling can cause medical complications

When a child is tickled continuously, they start laughing uncontrollably and are unable to talk or breathe. In some cases, they might even lose consciousness. As they cannot tell you to stop, you might not realize that they are in trouble.

5. Tickling creates trust issues

If your child does not like to be tickled, tickling them against their wish might create lifelong trust issues. As they grow older, they may equate tickling to physical abuse, develop a major mistrust for people touching them, and try to avoid crowded places for fear of being touched (5).

If you have been tickled as a child and enjoyed it, you might find it difficult to fathom why you must not tickle your child. However, every child is different. While you might have enjoyed the experience, another child might not. You should always ask your child for consent and let them set boundaries before tickling them.

There are many other ways to make your child happy. Try bonding with your children in other ways, such as telling jokes or playing games together instead of tickling them, and they will love you all the more for it.


MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. When touch turns to tickle; The University of Melbourne
2. Christine R. Harris; The mystery of ticklish laughter; American Scientist (1999).
3. Tickling Kids Can Do More Harm Than Good; Hand in Hand Parenting
4. Christine R. Harris and Nancy Alvarado; Facial expressions, smile types, and self-report during humour, tickle, and pain; Cognition and Emotion (2005).
5. Tickling: Just Fun or a Kind of Abuse?; Kars4Kids

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