There it was again. A persistent blinking in my daughter’s left eye that seemed to come and go, but was growing disturbingly more noticeable. The pediatrician determined that nothing physically was wrong with our toddler, but diagnosed the problem as an eye tic — one of a bevy of fairly common tics that can affect children.
What are tics?
The National Institutes of Health defines tics as “abnormal, unwanted movements or vocalizations” that are repeated, nonrhythmic and frequently involve the upper body and head. They can include “raising the eyebrows, turning the eyes, shaking the head, sniffing, snorting, and more complex phenomena such as repetitive touching or saying words or phrases.” Tics often appear in children between the ages of three and 11.
While toddlers’ tics and tics in older children might seem concerning to parents, experts say they affect about 25% of kids — and many resolve spontaneously with no treatment.
The do’s and don’t’s
Our pediatrician recommended that while we monitor the tic in my daughter’s eye, we should avoid drawing attention to it; in fact, if you point out the problem to your child, it actually can make things worse. The cause of the tic initially often is related to stress, and experts advise that trying to modify this behavior actually could cause even more stress to your child.
To that end, think about what might be causing anxiety in your household. For our family, we suspect the problem is related to the pandemic, disruptions in our daughter’s routine, and even our own stress levels. Remember, toddlers know more than we give them credit for; do what you can to reduce tension they might be feeling — as well as your own. Here are my suggestions for some stress-reducing activities for parents and kids, including breathing exercises and meditation. Our pediatrician recommended we might take a family vacation to alleviate stress; that’s not in the cards for us right now, but also didn’t sound like a bad idea!
If your child continues to experience a tic after several months, it might be worth a follow up visit with your pediatrician. Chronic tics can be indicative of Tourette syndrome or may be associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). At that point, your doctor might determine a course of action like therapy or medication.