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The Elephant in the room. How, When and Where to talk about tics with your child.

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

“I’ve been told to ignore my child’s tics and google says to never give any attention to them but……….”

… “I feel like if I ignore their tics, they will think I do not care”

… “If I ignore them every time, they tic, I will never be able to speak to them”

… “How can I learn from them, if we cannot discuss them?”

…” How do I support my child if we cannot talk about them?”

…” What should I say, if they start talking about their tics?”

…” How do I comfort and support them if we must pretend, they’re not happening?”

These are just some of the questions I am regularly asked by parents around ignoring their child’s tics. I’m hoping this will help some of you who are also wondering the same thing and be able to support your child further. In writing this, I guess I am wearing both hats, professional advise but also with a full understanding of how this works as a mum to two with a diagnosis of Tourette’s. With this in mind, I want to be open and honest about my journey and will add my story as we go.

I must hold my hands up and say as a parent to a small boy all those years ago who had tics, I would either ask him to be quiet, tell him to sit still and ask him daily how his tics had been at school. Then when he was diagnosed, I was told moving forward, to ignore his tics. So, with this advice, this is exactly what I did. I no longer asked how his tics had been in school, I no longer asked him to be quiet, I just never mentioned them again, as you can imagine, this was odd for us all. Then not long after during my training and career change, into the world of Tourette’s this is where I really started exploring self-esteem in those with tic disorders and this is where I learnt the following.

So, what is meant by ‘ignoring’ tics? In short what this means is, ‘not to give attention’ to tics.

The reality is, it's almost impossible to be able to support someone both mentally and/ or emotionally if we pretend that their symptoms do not exist.

I have had this explained to me from both adults and children with tic disorders as them feeling like ‘the elephant in the room’.

Now there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence that both children and adults feel that the tics themselves, when ticcing around others, isn't always the problem, but in fact the unpredictability of other’s reactions, and not feeling confident in managing potential questions and stares, is what drives their anxiety around ticcing in public, especially when everyone around them acts like nothing has happened without a conversation of what tics are, and how to react to them.

Hands up, how many of you have told family, friends, and teachers to ignore their child’s tics with no further explanation or education?

With this is mind, we must ensure that we properly educate everyone around them on tics and Tourette’s to lower the chances of these unpredictable reactions and so your child knows they are educated, therefore can speak opening about them if they wish to and why they’re not reacting to their tics.

Now how are we supposed to do all this if we are pretending that the tics are not there?

The reality is, we can't!

So how do we take on the advice from medical professionals and written literature, with regards to ignoring tics but also be there to support our children, by listening, learning, and advocating for them?

So as mentioned before what is meant by ignoring tics, is do not give tics attention. So how do we do this, and build our child’s confidence?

The most important thing we must do is sit our child down and explain what tics are, give them some child friendly education about how tics and Tourette’s can manifest in individuals, this is both for their own understanding, and to ensure that they can advocate for themselves if they ever need to.

We then explain how attention can increase tics so this means that by us as parents instigating conversation about tics, commenting on their tics, asking if they’re OK because of a tic that just happened, making a fuss about their tics, treating them differently because of their tics, and so on, can actually reinforce the tic cycle and increase the likelihood of them happening again, therefore moving forward you are no longer going to bring any form of attention to their tics, because you care. it's important that your child understands that you are doing this because you care and not for any other reason. We do not want our child to think we are ignoring ‘them’ but simply not giving their tics attention.

The next thing we must do, is let our child know that this does not mean that tics cannot be spoken about, and that we encourage them to come to you to discuss their tics, how they are feeling and any support they may need as much as they would like to.

Talking about tics should not be a taboo subject and can be spoken about every day if your child wishes. We need to create an environment where discussing tics is no different to discussing a headache, or how their day was at school.

By encouraging your child to talk openly to you about how their tics present each day and how that impacts them in the classroom, with their friends, and even at home with you and their family, will enable you to learn about how their tics manifest and therefore enable you to educate others, and advocate for your child.

If your child is encouraged to take charge of being confident in discussing their tics, they are more likely to be open and embrace their tics with others close to them and even in the wider community. It's no wonder so many of our children struggle to be open and confident with peers and others outside of their family if they feel like the elephant in the room in their own home.

I know that when I learnt how I should be supporting my eldest with his tics, and how I should be interacting with them, we grew day by day, together!

Harrison spent 6 years wearing hoodies, with some kind of Tourette’s Awareness slogan on them, to show he was confident, and felt empowered to own them, he also said that when he wore these hoodies in public, they gave a snapshot of education and made him feel like he could just be himself. His tics have subsided quiet substantially over the last 6 months, therefore he doesn’t wear them anymore, but he says he doesn’t need them moving forward as anyone who matters is already educated and he is ok with that.

My younger son’s tics have only really been more prominent in the last few months, to a point that he is now more aware of them, he knows he can come to me at any point and discuss them, we too will learn together about how his tics impact him when he is ready to do so.

Sarah Sharp

CEO Tictock Therapy

CBiT Therapist

Mother of 2 amazing boys with Tourettes

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