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Following the Giggles and More!

Wow.  There is So much going on these days.  Lots of challenges and so many different directions to go while writing in stolen moments.  Parents and children around the globe are struggling, as their worlds and routines have been upended.  Yet, children don’t articulate their fear, grief and loss.  Instead, they act it out.  When lucky, it comes out in their play and their demands for more play.  Many (even big) kids are crawling into bed with their parents, and lots are having a hard time falling asleep.   There is a lot of regression, aggressive behavior and big messy emotions going around.   As cities begin to reopen, new fears and worries will arise.  

Time to Pause.  First, I want to begin with gratitude and celebration.  I have a big thank you to Janelle Randazza, for coming to my parenting workshops and being inspired to write about Roughhousing.  I am so very grateful for the honor of being interviewed and for the thrill of being quoted in an article with one of my parenting heroes, Dr. Larry Cohen.  Thank YOU!  The link to that article is here

Secondly, this very article was the impetus for me to write a little more about Following the Giggles, the benefits of roughhousing and the laughter that ensues.  Laughter is an amazing way to release anxiety and stress.  When we laugh, our bodies produce oxytocin, aka the love drug, which encourages bonding and connection to those we are laughing with.  What an amazing combination - especially during a pandemic, no?!  

However, I must add that laughter from tickling does NOT release stress and anxiety in our bodies, in fact it can actually increase stress and anxiety.  This is because laughter from tickling is involuntary.  

What makes Roughhousing games so effective in releasing stress and anxiety?   Roughhousing games allow children to walk the edge - they feel safe while at the same time touch their fear.  Visualize a baby being thrown into the air and caught, laughing wildly.  The tummy tickles and giggles that happen on roller coasters.  Or the shrieks of laughter that erupt at the anticipation of being found in a game of hide and seek.  

The article above suggested a tickle fight to teach consent.  As you read in the above paragraph, I just said tickling can increase stress.  This is why I wanted to deepen the discussion on the nuances between a Tickle Fight and the Stop Go Game.    When I tell parents to follow the giggles in roughhousing games, I emphasize that laughter from tickling does not count.   In general, I encourage parents to avoid tickling – again, because the laughter is involuntary and it does not release stress and anxiety the way organic giggling and laughter do.  

So, for parents and kids that swear they love tickling, I recommend parents pretend they are going to tickle, without actually tickling.  The anticipation of being tickled will cause most kids to laugh. This brings us back to that healthy edge – where we feel safe and are touching a fear at the same time.  

As mentioned in the article, I recommend the Stop-Go Game, which helps teach consent, when played properly.  In the Stop-Go Game, the child has control of, if, when and how long they will be tickled.   This allows them to feel empowered, as opposed to overpowered, which is what happens when we tickle someone until they beg for mercy, “laughing” with tears in their eyes (or peeing their pants!).  

As you might have guessed, the child loves the anticipation of being tickled and will usually say, Go-STOP, before they can actually be tickled.  Because the child is in control, it is also a game that empowers children.  A common temptation for parents, is to pretend they cannot hear the Stop and to keep tickling, all in the name of fun.  It is very important to remember the point of the game is to model consent, building trust and connection, and get your child laughing and releasing stress, all at the same time (not actually tickling unless they say go Go GO). 

A real win-win.

And lastly, here is another suggestion. It might sound a little anti-intuitive.  Roughhousing games can actually help kids go to sleep faster and easier.  No, I don’t recommend big wrestling matches and getting super hot and sweaty in fresh pajamas.  I am thinking more in the lines of maybe: 

1. Bucking Bronco if your child is small enough and your back is strong enough. You got it – parent is the horse and the child is the rider. You try to buck them off for 10 seconds.

2. Rollercoaster – similar, this time, parent is the car.  You go slowly up, up, UP and then DOwwwwnnnnn and to the side, the other side another quick up and down and done – back at the platform.  Of course, they will want a second ride and a third…

3. The Sock Game – is fun for the whole family to play.  Everyone puts on socks, sits on the floor in a circle and then tries to take each other’s socks off.  Laughter ensues!

4. Turn them into a Pizza, or Taco or Cookies – in the case of pizza,

they are the dough, you kneed them, stretch them out – what? a giggling pizza?! Put on the toppings (silly things like smelly socks or favorites such as mushrooms) and then, put them into the oven, count to 10 and voila – the pizza is ready to eat. It is the best pizza you have ever had – and eating it is almost like a Kiss Attack.

5. Kiss Attack – you cover them with kisses and tell them how delicious and amazing they are – and you just cannot stop kissing them!

I hear you saying, Really?  Before bed?   Isn’t it going to get them all riled up, just when we are trying to get to calm, so they fall asleep and we are off to an adult moment? Wouldn’t Yoga be better?  These are valid questions.  

My answer, Try it.  Bedtime is hard, because it is the biggest separation of the day.  As we begin to drift off to sleep, our subconscious opens up and our minds are flooded with thoughts from the day, worries, fears, etc.  All amplified during a pandemic.  If a child is full of fear, worry and pent up energy, they will do all they can to avoid getting into bed and meeting those fears, especially alone.

Roughhousing games increase connection, while releasing stress and anxiety.  Increased connection and less stress is a great combination for falling asleep.  I would recommend starting your bedtime routine a little earlier, play a roughhousing game - follow those giggles and end up snuggling, cuddling, (you can go ahead and try some simple calming yoga too) and reading books, until lights out. Singing, a relaxation visualization and massages also help soothe the calming response (aka our parasympathetic nervous system), increase connection and allow sleep to come more easily. 

If you try it and it does not work for your child before bed – find time to play some roughhousing games earlier in the day.  Try to get your child laughing for at least 15 minutes a day (it will still help them fall asleep at bedtime).  Laughter is good for all of us, any time. We can all use some extra oxytocin!  Especially now.  Especially always!

Follow those Giggles!  And one more Thank You to Janelle Randazza.  

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