Is Your Child Stressed?
Tics May Tell.
Stress… as parents, we know that it’s all part of the job. Between potty training, school activities and what’s for dinner questions, parents learn to deal with stress fast. But what about children? Where adults can typically recognize situations that cause stress in our lives and develop strategies for dealing with it, children aren’t quite equipped to do the same. Instead, they often exhibit stress and anxiety in physical and emotional outbursts –sometimes involuntary ones.
Shoulder shrugging, nose wrinkling, head twitching, throat clearing, eye blinking and more. Tics, by definition, are involuntary, brief (usually less than one second) motor movements that can happen anywhere from 10 to 100 times a day. Many times these movements are caused by stress, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), up to 24 percent of children may have a tic at some point in their young lives. This ailment is referred to as Transient Tic Disorder, and it is very common.
There are different types of tics children experience. They may be motor (like excessive eye blinking) or vocal (such as a habitual cough or chronic repetitive throat clearing noises), chronic (continuing throughout childhood), or transient (lasting less than 1–2 years). The AAP has also found that children with ADHD or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are often more likely to develop tics as they get older.
Tics are rarely diagnosed before the age of 2 and can begin anytime during childhood. Experts have found that boys are three to four times more likely to develop a tic than girls. Generally, tics come on slowly, last for a few weeks or up to a year and then regress again.
So as parents, what do you do if you notice what you think might be a tic? First, it’s important for parents to understand that children cannot consciously suppress a tic. Doctors agree that once a child begins to think about it, holding in a tic is as hard as holding in a sneeze or a yawn. Next, when you first notice a tic – like eye blinking – take your child to the pediatrician. Your physician can help determine if there are additional concerns beyond your child’s tic.
If your doctor concludes that there is nothing physically wrong with your child, it’s best to simply ignore the tic. The AAP agrees that the best thing a parent can do is not to draw unnecessary attention to a child’s tic. Drawing attention to a tic causes a child to think more about it, which inevitably worsens the condition.
Besides just ignoring a tic, helping your child to de-stress is also key. It may be hard to imagine, but children face a great deal of kid-size pressure in their lives. Learning a lot of new things, social interactions and extracurricular activities can be tough for little ones to manage. You may want to talk to your child’s doctor or teacher to develop a plan to help minimize stress in your child’s life.
Home life can sometimes be another source of stress for children, especially during times of family turmoil and trials. Spending time with your kids and talking with them about their concerns can help lighten the load. The AAP also recommends young children get plenty of sleep, which can go a long way toward eliminating stress.
Most often, tics are harmless, and the vast majority of tics are not the result of any underlying problem. Once the doctor gives your child a clean bill of health, the best thing to do is just ignore the tic, help minimize stress and make sure your child is getting enough sleep. These are the best measures to help your child deal with a problem that will most likely be short lived.