Tics are rapid, repeated muscle twitches, such as eye blinking, facial grimacing, forehead wrinkling, head turning, or shoulder shrugging. Most tics last only 1 second. Tics usually happen more often when a child is under stress. When a child is relaxed, he will not have as many tics. Also, tics do not occur when a child is sleeping. They are 3 times more common in boys than girls.
The cause of tics is not completely known. Genetics and neurochemical differences may play the largest role. Tics can be made worse through the spilling over of emotional tension. Children do not do them on purpose. Children who have tics are usually normal, bright, and sensitive.
If tics are ignored, they usually disappear in 2 months to 1 year. If extra effort is made to help your child relax, they usually improve more quickly. Even if the tics are not ignored and a child continues to feel stress or pressure, the tics usually improve or go away on their own during adolescence. About 3% of children with tics develop tics that cause problems during daily activities. In these cases, additional behavior therapy and sometimes medicine is needed.
Make sure your child has free time and fun time every day. If your child is overscheduled with activities, try to lighten the commitments. If your child is unduly self-critical, praise him more and remind him to be a good friend to himself.
Whenever your child has a flurry of tics, write in a diary the date, time, and preceding event. From this diary, you should be able to identify when your child feels pressure. (Note: Your child should not know that you are keeping this diary.)
In general, criticize your child less about grades, music lessons, sports, keeping his room clean, table manners, and so forth. Avoid stimulant medications (such as decongestants).
When your child is having tics, don't call his attention to them. Reminders imply that they are bothering you. If your child becomes worried about the tics, then every time they occur, the child will react with tension rather than acceptance. The tension in turn will trigger more tics. Don't allow siblings or others to tease your child about the tics. Be sure that relatives, friends, and teachers also ignore the tics. When tics occur, people should focus on reducing any pressure they may be causing your child.
Stop all family conversation about tics. The less said about them, the less your child will worry about them. If your child brings up the subject, say something reassuring, such as "eventually your face muscles will learn to relax and the tics will go away."
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