Why Doesn’t a Baby Less than 3 Months Old Respond to Tickling?

Why Doesn’t a Baby Less than 3 Months Old Respond to Tickling?

Have you ever tried to tickle a baby less than three months old? You do the whole coochie-coochie thing and get no response. Why not?

Most people assume the lack of response has something to do with physical development. Maybe the nervous system hasn’t fully matured and she can’t feel it. Maybe the vocal chords are not yet able to produce laughter. Nope. The nervous system is fine. The vocal chords are fine. This has nothing to do with physical development.

The reason you can’t tickle a baby less than three months old is the same reason you can’t tickle yourself. Think about it. Tickling is a lot more than just the physical sensation of fingers in your ribs. It is the physical sensation of fingers in your ribs combined with the knowledge that you are the “ticklee” and someone else is the “tickler.” If you’re walking along sticking your fingers in your ribs, that is no big deal. But I come up behind you and stick my fingers in your ribs, well, now we’re having fun. Tickling is largely a social rather than physical phenomenon.

And the fact is that prior to three months of age, babies have not developed what is referred to as “social awareness.” It takes time for them to figure out where they end and someone else begins, and to understand that they are a separate entity. Once that kicks in at around three months, babies become truly responsive, interactive creatures who are enormously interested in and appreciative of social activities.

That is why Romp n’ Roll classes begin at three months of age. While younger babies certainly are capable of being cute and like to be comfortable, it is not until this point in development that they are genuinely ready, willing, and able to engage in meaningful interpersonal play and have fun.

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