Why the World Needs Tickle Monsters

Noelle Ruth

Last Friday my brother and his wife Sarah invited their third child a girl named Noelle Ruth into the world. As I held her in my arms Saturday morning [1] an interesting thought went through my mind; Mr. Tickle Monster isn’t retiring any time soon.

“Mr. Tickle Monster” started as a way of entertaining my niece (and tickling her of course) when she was two years old. Today he is a favorite of both my niece and nephew and it’s pretty much gotten to the point where they care more about him than me [2]

Screenshot 2015-01-23 11.09.32

Of course they are well aware Mr. Tickle Monster isn’t an actual person…after all its just my hand closing so that the thumb meets my other four fingers and it somewhat resembles a mouth. The reason they ask about him is pretty simple.

When Mr. Tickle Monster shows up they know something silly is about to happen.

Over the years Tickle Monster has created a number of routines that are sure to bring laughter. In fact I’ve used them so much my niece and nephew now ask for them by name.

  1. Like falling asleep and snoring very loudly
  2. Or acting as if he is deathly afraid of Mr. and Mrs. Fox (which my niece and nephew make with their hands)
  3. Walking into the corner of the screen when I’m on FaceTime or Skype and act as if he isn’t even there
  4. Eating imaginary food that he’s told isn’t spicy, only to learn that it was spicy and completely over-react
  5. and stealing french fries [3]

The reason I love using him is because it creates what I call “controlled silliness.”

There are two common approaches to giving children a release or allowing them to be silly; you either don’t allow them to do it at all (no silliness whatsoever) or you allow all kids to be a silly as they want (which ends in chaos). Having Mr. Tickle monster helps because he comes and goes at specific times to give a brief period of silliness. Ideally this gives me control to choose where we can be silly and where we can’t. [4]

I truly believe ministry (particularly with children) needs these periods of “controlled silliness” that they can look forward to. As someone who works with kids I think a lot about how much children are asked to sit still or be quiet, and how little they are allowed to just be loud noisy kids. Obviously there are places where they need to be under control like school or church. However those must be paired with moments of silliness that can be turned off [5] ideally.

When I came to Barrouallie I knew that Mr. Tickle Monster wasn’t going to work because it wouldn’t look right, there is a variation of Tickle Monster that grabs their arm but he has since been retired in favour of “Mr. John’s Lashing Hat.”

This is basically a kangaroo leather hat that makes a pretty loud sound when you hit someone (usually doesn’t hurt) and I play chase large groups of children while hitting them with it. They always end up “stealing” the lashing hat at which point I sprint down the street but always somehow manage to fall down so that they can lash me with the hat.

As you can imagine this is a pretty loud game which is why I rarely wear that Australian hat. In most cases when I bring the hat to Bible club the kids know they’re going to have fun, and when the hat goes away they know silly times over. There is a big difference between saying silly times over and getting the kids calmed down of course, but it’s creating those fun moments and releasing energy that helps the kids pay attention later.

At our last Bible club in Barrouallie a few months ago we played lashing hat for an extended time then I purposely ran down the street and hid behind a wall. As some of the children came walking around the corner I suddenly jumped out and began flailing my hat around in the air which brought screams of delight while they ran back up the hill. That’s time that probably could have been spent teaching a verse or telling them a bible story but something tells me they will remember that moment of controlled silliness for a long time.


[1]: technically I only held her that one time which is fine because Uncles are there to entertain the other kids. I’m pretty sure the reason I was holding her that time was so we could get a picture of it 🙂

[2]: When I called my mother at their house last week they responded “hey Mr. Tickle monster!” and it took five-minutes after arriving at the hospital for them to ask where Mr. Tickle Monster was

[3]: surprisingly I’m always the one that eats them instead of him

[4]: when visiting the hospital for instance Mr. Tickle Monster definitely couldn’t come because he was far too loud

[5]: Mr. Tickle Monsters gone so we have to calm down now

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