In my family, I had never thought of tickling as hard on my child. I have a 5-year-old son, and I've tickled him often in play since he was quite young. When I joined a Hand in Hand class, I learned how to do Special Time. When he started Kindergarten, I wanted him to be more independent about going to sleep. He would stay in his bed only if I cuddled with him until he fell asleep. So I told him that we would do Special Time for 5 minutes every night before he went to sleep. I thought that if he could notice the attention I was giving him, he might be able to relax enough to fall asleep by himself. We began that tradition, and because I'd always tickled him when we got physically close, that's what he would ask for every night.
When I learned that tickling might be hard on him, I stopped. He would ask to be tickled, and I would say no, and he was disappointed. It was as if we couldn't find a good way to play any more. Then, I heard the idea that I could pretend to tickle him, and when he asked for it, I wiggled my fingers above his tummy over and over, and he laughed a lot, and then tried to tickle me. We were laughing again! This was what we did in Special Time for several nights.
At one point, he asked me, “Mommy, why don't you tickle me any more?” And I said, “Because I don’t think it's good for you–you might not be able to tell me to stop when you want me to stop.” He said, “If I want it, will you tickle me?” and I said, “If you want it, I'll look like I'm going to tickle you, OK?” and he agreed that this was OK. Then I asked him, “Why do you like me to tickle you?” He said, “Because it's the only way you play with me, Mommy.” With that, I knew that I was getting on the right track by stopping the tickling so we could both struggle to think of how to laugh together in other ways.
I think that when I stopped tickling my son, he began to feel a lot safer with me. After another few weeks, he came home from school and said, “Mommy, are we going to have Special Time tonight?”
I said, “Yes, we are, for sure.”
And he said, “Good. I didn't like what happened at school today, and I am going to tell you when it's Special Time.” That evening, we got on the bed together, and he wanted me to lie next to him. He told me about how one of the children at school had been mean to him, and he had a good cry. When he was done, he thanked me, and went to sleep peacefully. He was bright and ready for school the next day, even though what he had told me was an incident that was very hard on him.
Lately, he has been having a 5- or 10-minute cry every night during Special Time, while he tells me about the hard things at school or his brother's jealousy. He always finishes and is peaceful in the end. This Special Time has turned into the best time for him to feel safe enough to share what was hard for him at school and at home, and it sometimes does go over the five minutes. It is worth the extra time to see him managing his challenges so well.
~ A mother in Watsonville, CA
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