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Laughing at pain?

There's something about little round tummies and pink belly buttons that makes tickling a toddler an almost irresistible activity - not to mention the peels of laughter a chuck under the chin can produce. What is it that makes children squeal with pleasure when adults scarcely wave their fingers toward ticklish areas? Or is it pleasure at all?

Ironically, the skin receptors responsible for the tickling sensation are part of the body's pain system, says Dr. Roger Thies, tickle expert and physiologist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "When we

tickle our children we gently stimulate the defensive skin receptors that Mother Nature concentrated on their faces, feet bottoms and bellies to warn them of impending pain." Does that mean that tickling is painful? Not necessarily, says Dr. Thies. "But tickles and pain do use the same pathways to the brain, and the sensations are sorted out there."

However, while some children enjoy being tickled, others do not -- and it's not that they're less ticklish than others. Whether a tickle elicits laughter or tears depends on a child's mood and disposition. "Everyone has the same number of skin receptors and the same ability to be tickled," says Dr. Thies. "If a child doesn't seem ticklish, she's probably suppressing the response, much in the way some folks tolerate pain better than others. In many ways, ticklishness is a state of mind."

But, there's more than mood involved in the tickling question. In some cases, if a child is not a willing participant, tickling against her wishes may be intrusive, sending her the wrong messages about ownership of her body. According to Dr. Lynn Sheets, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Kansas University Children's Center, "Laughter is an almost involuntary response to being tickled. But, it doesn't always mean she's having fun. If your child moves away, tries to remove your hand or looks frightened, even in the midst of giggles, stop the tickling immediately." Keep in mind too, when tickling toddlers, that some have neither the mobility nor dexterity needed yet to thwart an unwanted tickle. Watch them closely for negative responses. And of course, under no circumstances should a stranger tickle your child.

Does this mean parents should keep hands-off when it comes to tickling? Definitely not. Experts agree that, in most cases, tickling your toddler is nothing more than a wholesome way of showing affection and sharing fun.

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Title Annotation:when to tickle
Author:Boiter, Cynthia
Publication:Pediatrics for Parents
Date:May 1, 1994
Previous Article:Pocketing caps.
Next Article:Nurturing imagination & creativity.

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