What are tics?
Tics are fairly common in children and young people. They are often related to stress and anxiety. During the COVID-19 pandemic, general levels of stress have been high, and this seems to have led to an increase in the number of children and young people with tics.
Tics are fast, repetitive muscle movements that result in sudden body movements or sounds that are difficult to control. Tics are not usually serious, and they do not cause damage to the brain. However, they can be frustrating for a child or young person and can interfere with everyday activities.
Some tics affect body movement (motor tics) and others result in a sound (vocal tics).
Some examples of tics include:
- blinking, wrinkling the nose or grimacing
- jerking or nodding the head
- clicking the fingers
- touching other people or things
- coughing, grunting or sniffing
- repeating a sound or phrase
Tics can happen randomly and they may be associated with times of increased stress, anxiety, tiredness, excitement or happiness. They tend to get worse if they're talked about or focused on. Tics often start with an unpleasant sensation that builds up in the body, until it is relieved by the tic (known as an urge), although tics can sometimes be partly suppressed.
It's important to note that not all tics mean that a child or young person has a diagnosable condition such as Tourette Syndrome. In most cases, tics improve over time or stop completely. Sometimes they may just last a few months, but often they come and go over several years. Tics are normally most severe from around 8 years of age until teenage years, and usually start to improve after puberty.
What can parents/carers do to help?
The majority of tics need very little intervention and will usually fade away on their own. The research evidence tells us that the most helpful intervention for tics occurring in childhood is to increase other people’s understanding of tics, to enable young people to feel supported with their tics.
Here are some simple things you can do that may help to improve your child's tics:
- Reduce stress, anxiety and boredom - encourage your child to engage in a relaxing and enjoyable activity, such as a sport or a hobby.
- Avoid becoming too tired - encourage your child to get a good night's sleep whenever possible.
- Try to ignore your child's tic and not talk about it too much - drawing attention to it may make it worse.
- Do not tell your child off when their tic occurs - remember that tics are involuntary actions.
- Reassure your child that tics are common in childhood and are likely to go away on their own.
- Let other people you're in regular contact with know about tics, so they're aware of them and know not to react when they occur.
- If your child is finding school difficult, talk to their teacher about ways of dealing with this. For example, it may help if they're allowed to leave the classroom if their tics are particularly bad.
Helpful resources for parents/carers
Great Ormond Street Hospital, info for children and young people:
Tourette’s Action, self-help website with resources and support:
Tourette Scotland, self-help website with resources and support:
Anxiety and stress management
Access Therapies, Teenager and Child Groups:
Moodcafe, relaxation exercises:
Who to contact if you're still concerned
For parents and carers
Please contact your health visitor, school, GP or other professional involved with your family.
Please consult with other professionals involved or the named person, and to help identify the most appropriate support, go to: www.nhsfife.org/camhs-choosingtherightsupport
Some info on this page is from the NHS website.