'It tickles in my tummy!': Understanding children's risk-taking in play through reversal theory

Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    'It tickles in my tummy' is one of the most frequent answers when children are asked to describe what they experience when engaging in risky play. Why do children take risks in spite of the fact that this can be a harmful and even fatal activity? This article aims to explore this issue. Semi-structured interviews of 23 pre-school children aged four and five years were analyzed on the basis of the concepts of paratelic and telic states in Reversal Theory, the paratelic state being an excitement-seeking mode, and the telic state being an anxiety-avoiding mode. The phenomenological structure of children's risky play was found to be characterized by children expressing the ambiguous nature of quick reversals between the paratelic and telic states, producing both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. This 'walk on the dangerous edge' seemed to be one of the primary goals of engaging in risky play. As long as the paratelic state dominated the situation, children embraced the potential fear by arousal-increasing strategies and maintained play. If the telic state dominated the situation, children described arousal-avoidance strategies and ultimately withdrew from play.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)67-88
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of Early Childhood Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


    • Ambiguous emotions
    • Early childhood
    • Preschool
    • Reversal theory
    • Risk-taking
    • Risky play


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