Toddlers and Tics

From eye blinking to shoulder shrugging to nervous coughing, all toddlers are prone to tics, particularly during their developmental stages. Though there is no reason to beat yourself up if a behavior like this emerges, it could mean that your child is dealing with stress or discomfort. This month, we will talk about the various forms of tics that may emerge in early childhood and what parents can do to help.

Tracing the Tic

There are two types of tics, vocal – a short eruption of sound, and motor – a brief, physical movement. Simple tics include eye-blinking, head jerking, nose-twitching, or other small movements or sounds. Complex motor tics consist of a series of movements and/or sounds that occur in the same order each time. With both simple and complex tics, the action is usually recurrent.

Tics, however uncomfortable it is for the child experiencing them, can be suppressed. This is an important distinction to make when attempting to diagnose whether what you’re seeing is a tic or a muscle twitch. Muscle twitches, or myoclonic jerks, cannot be controlled at all.


Simple and complex tics affect 25% of children and have been known to develop as early as three years of age. It is not known precisely what causes a tic, but some studies have found association with intelligent, high-achieving youngsters, as well as kids who are getting too little sleep. If the severity and frequency of a tic increases, you should seek further evaluation.


This is not to say that you should give a whole lot of attention to your child’s new behavior. In fact, you should do exactly the opposite. Most tics resolve themselves within a few months with no intervention. Pointing it out or telling your child to stop such behavior may actually increase their level of stress.

What you can do is take a look at your child’s environment and remove certain factors that could be amping up the pressure. If they are on a competitive sports team, it might be time for them to take a break for a bit, or pull your spelling bee champ from this year’s competition. They may not talk to you for a few days, but at least they’ll get some much-needed rest.

If your child’s tic continues for more than a few months it may be time to make an appointment. Although it’s very rare, some tics may be categorized as Tourette’s syndrome or chronic tic disorder.

So, as always, when it comes to tics, stay calm. And perhaps, if you’re so inclined, use the emergence of one as an excuse to take a relaxing vacation with your little one.