Child Caring

Twitches & tics worry parents

My 3 yr old daughter has started twitching just 2 weeks ago. She touches/rubs her nose,ears,eyes and takes her hand over her head at least 6-7 times in a day. She does so more in public,with other children and when she is tired/sleepy. She is our only child and we are not sure why she is doing it. She goes to a playschool but I did notice that no other child in her class does it. Need Your help...what should we do?---ignore it, take her to pediatrician...? Please help.

From: AC, Alpahretta, GA

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Hi AC,

So first, let's get the lingo down. Twitching is an involuntary motion of a muscle, a spasm or trembling. What you're describing sounds more like a tic, which is also involuntary but is a movement of the muscle that happens abruptly and repeatedly.

Tics -- a jerk of the head, a swipe of the nose, shrugging or blinking -- are not unusual in childhood and most kids don't realize they are doing it. You can certainly guide her hand away from her face if you see the motion coming, but otherwise, with a child this young, trying to stop or correct it may be not only hard but unpleasant. As hard as it might be to observe this, the toughest part about it may be learning to tolerate it because the more attention you bring to it, the more likely it is that you will inadvertently reinforce the motions. I assume, by the way, that you mention she has no siblings as your way of saying you have no basis for comparison. But I bet if you ask other parents, you'll discover that this is not so uncommon. Let me also say, as the parent of an only myself, that when there is only one child, we tend to hyper-identify and over-analyze everything. As understandable as that is, it's in everyone's interest to ratchet that down.

Tics can be caused by medication (is she on any?), recreational drugs (I assume we can rule that out!) and stress, both positive and negative, and also -- as you've indicated -- by a need for sleep. In other words, benign. Given your description, I'd guess that your daughter might fall into the last two categories; for instance, being excited about playschool, about her playmates and activities, would be an example of positive stress. )Some kids jump up and down when they are excited and don't even realize it, and it's such a signal of happiness that we don't register it negatively.) Negative stress could be as simple as change of any kind: Has there been a new teacher? A change in routine?

I wouldn't go jumping to conclusions here (are you worrying about the onset of Tourette's or a conduct disorder?) but because tics and twitches can be symptomatic of a number of disorders, I suggest making your pediatrician aware of your concern. My guess is he/she will advise you to keep an eye on it. It may well diminish on its own, waxing and waning over time.

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