Nervous Tics In Children

She gnaws at her nails while her play buddy cracks his fingers. Why are some children likely to develop nervous symptoms?

Some children have a tic disorder, or many. Some nibble their nails at a very young age and continue to do so until adolescence; for others, this mania disappears spontaneously after a short time. How do these tics appear and what should you do to help children get rid of them?

What is a tick?

Tics are semi-controlled compulsive movements. They can come in many forms, such as biting your nails, playing with your face, making sounds, biting the inside of your cheeks, tearing your hair or cracking your fingers.

Tics are usually caused by overpressure or frustration, so by removing a tic without finding the cause, they can return in another form. Despite the label "nervous tics", people who have tics are not necessarily more nervous than others. These tics affect 12% to 24% of the school-age population and occur mainly in children over 7 years of age.

In rare cases, some tics may be a symptom of a neurological disease such as Tourette's syndrome.

What causes tics?

Many causes can trigger a child's tics: stress, fatigue, nervousness or boredom are some of them.

They may be caused by specific events, such as the birth of a younger brother or sister, a death or separation; they may also be caused by a need to move or to externalize. A very active child who needs to sit or be calm to set an example for their siblings, for example, could develop tics.

Finally, a child who feels a lot of pressure because they have to perform in an artistic activity or a sport could also develop it.

These tics annoy me!

When we notice that our child is constantly biting their nails, making small noises in the library or cracking their fingers in the movies, we may be tempted to tell them to stop, but the specialists advise against it.

Indeed, talking about this awkward tic in public or asking your child to stop doing something automatic that relaxes them can make them more anxious. It is better to avoid making remarks or reproaches.

What to do then?

Since it is external factors that cause tics in children, it is useless to use discipline or other strategies to convince the child to stop. Even solutions that work in adults may have no effect in children. For example, some children get used to the taste of the bitter product to prevent them from biting their nails, rather than stopping. As long as the cause is not found, they will continue to gnaw them.

Some doctors suggest ignoring tics and waiting for them to go away on their own during adolescence. If you still want to intervene, try to do it with delicacy.

Talk to your child subtly and try to find out what may have changed in your life, if it's not something obvious like entering kindergarten or moving home.

You can also set up a daily moment for them to tell you about their day in detail, during dinner, for example, or before bedtime. Also try to congratulate them more when they succeed and to play down the defeats. Finally, avoid talking too much about the sport or the discipline they practice in extracurricular activity and teach them to relax. If these strategies fail to overcome the tics, they will at least have helped to establish good communication and to better understand your child.

When to worry?

In general, tics disappear naturally, as soon as their cause disappears or the child learns to better manage the pressure. However, be aware that a tic that lasts more than a year may become chronic and that some other factors must push you to consult.

If tics increase or cause other disorders (dental, skin, etc.), if they are accompanied by a disturbance of attention or if they are detrimental to their esteem, do not hesitate to talk to a pediatrician or psychologist. He can chat with your child or give you some tips.


  1. Centre d’études sur les troubles obsessionnels-compulsifs et les tics
  2. Naitre et grandir
  3. Médecine et Santé
  4. Esculape
Image de Anne Costisella

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