”’It tickles in my tummy’: Understanding children’s risk-taking in play through Reversal Theory”.

Sandseter, E.B.H.
Journal of Early Childhood Research, 8(1), 67-88.


The study examines children's explanations for why they engage in risky play, i.e. play that can lead to physical injury, what children perceive as, respectively, dangerous and safe, and how children play in the interface between these two poles. The focus of this article is to explore the experiences of children engaging in risky play with regard to both their motivation and their feelings. The study builds on previous studies by the same researcher identifying risky play and characterising it as play at altitudes and speed, tumble play, use of dangerous tools, approaching danger in the surroundings and getting lost.


According to the results of the study, children experience an immediate joy from such play and gladly seek out adventurous games. The analysis of children's statements about play clarifies that children deliberately seek out games that are played out in the interface between being dangerous and being safe because, in the words of the children, 'it tickles in my tummy'. Children experience an alternation between pleasant emotions and unpleasant emotions. While playing, the children apply both strategies to promote suspense as well as strategies to reduce suspense, and they alternate between being engaged and apprehensive. The Children adjust the game so it plays out in the desired interface where the game is interesting, exciting, challenging and risky, but without the children feeling that they lose control over the game.


The data material consists of individual interviews with 23 four-to-five-year-old children from two kindergartens. The interviews lasted 20-30 minutes and were recorded on an MP3 player. The researcher spent four to five months in the kindergartens. The interview material was transcribed and analysed within a phenomenological framework and analysed in terms of reversal theory and personal trait theory.


Sandseter, E.B.H. (2010). ”’It tickles in my tummy’: Understanding children’s risk-taking in play through Reversal Theory”. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 8(1), 67-88.

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