Is This a Tic or Self Soothe?!? HELP ME PLEASE.

Updated on July 08, 2019
M.K. asks from Kapaa, HI
10 answers

Hi everyone, I’ve tried to post this in babycenter but didn’t really get an answer so I hope someone here will do.

About six months ago (late November last year) my son started to stroke his feet. From his feet up to his knees or just the sole of his feet. Mostly he will do it when he’s excited or somewhere new, or when entering the mall, getting off a car. It was the oddest thing ever. He would stroke, not fastly, but gently. This was days after we decorated our house with Christmas decos. Unnecessary info now but will explain later.

I was soooo alarmed because it wasn’t something usual that he does. I went to the dermatologist because I thought it was something skin-related and he did say he had mild eczema (which is totally mild because I cannot see anything) but not a cause to worry. He eventually stopped doing it.

Fast forward three months, when we had a house renovation. We were in and out of hotels, and we finally moved back into our house. He started doing it again. Stroking his soles of feet or feet upto his knees, just when he’s excited or somewhere new.

I would say he could control it, and he absolutely knew I was bothered by it because he would look at me while doing it. Deep inside I would have a mini heart attack, I get so scared when he does it.

He stopped after a few weeks.

Fast forward now, his gramma who he rarely sees flew in and is visiting us for a several days. HE STARTED DOING IT AGAIN. He would stroke his feet as soon as he got off the car and entering Costco.

Trust me, I’ve spent countless nights googling. He is a healthy happy developing kid, no signs of autism, no signs of developmental delays. A happy super active kid. I’ve googled tics, and I just don’t know whether to classify as such because he can control it. I’ve googled OCD, but ocd symptoms do not come and go, but his does.

Went to the Pedia and he said if I notice, it’s all after or during a significant event. After decorating the house with Christmas decos, house renovation, etc. a part of me wants to believe it but a part of me is like, does this REALLY happen?!?
Is it just self soothing? I’m a stay at home mom and i give him 100% of me, all day everyday. What is he self soothing for?!? 😑

I’m just so so confused, and helpless, and actually scared. Just wanted to know if it’s a possibility that he’s really just going through phases. 😭😭😭

Thank you so much for your time. Just a desperate mama over here.

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answers from Denver on

I suggest, since this does not seem to be any form of self-harm, that you stop googling into the night, and stop reacting when your son calms or soothes himself.

You use words like "heart attack", "scared", "alarmed", and "desperate". Now, if there's anything a child would need to soothe himself over, it would seem that a mother who is with him 100% of the time, all day, every day, who is alarmed, desperate, scared and feels like she's having a mini-heart-attack, that would check all the boxes.

Now, re-read your sentence about your child, the one where you say he's happy, with no delays, active, etc. And re-read all the panicky, anxiety-filled words that you wrote to describe yourself.

Calm yourself. Your son is doing something a little unusual, but you are panicking. Stop trying to come up with a disease or disorder. Stop noticing or reacting if your son strokes his leg or feet. Stop being with him 100% of the day, all day, every day. Of course I don't mean to leave him or get babysitters, but make sure he has time to play by himself. Get him some age-appropriate Legos and don't sit down and build stuff with him. Take him to story time at the library and you browse a book while he's with the other kids.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Ok we have neurological issues (tics have been among them) and this doesn't sound anything like what our family has had.

Similarly, neurological problems like that tend to not be controllable - even if you can delay it, they feel like they are building .. not sure if that makes sense.

OCD and anxiety and those kinds of disorders or even mental illnesses (I'm not talking necessarily severe ones) can feel like they are building, but in a different kind of way - like a stressful or anxious kind of way, and it may be a 'release' of another kind - temporarily.

That may be more where this is coming from .. hard to say.

Some kids have rituals, which may be way you're thinking OCD. You can have rituals (like putting shoes a certain way or arranging stuffies in bed) without having OCD .. and certainly, kiddos can do that (as can adults) when going through change. That's fairly typical for 'some' kids and nothing to be alarmed about.

It's only a problem if it interferes with life. A lot of kids will notice other kids picking up on it, and 'hide' it or drop the behavior altogether or if it is self soothing, do it in private at home.

If YOU are concerned (as much as you are), then talk to a therapist or have child just meet with one but keep it light. A good one will just ask some general questions and know how to assess the behavior without stressing kiddo out.

My kiddo (one who suffers bit of anxiety now and then) has a few 'odd' behaviors but on a scale of 1-10, they rank about a 2. The psychologist felt they were minimal and if we were concerned (including kiddo) then just change it up.

So for your kiddo, it may involve having a stress ball instead ... or writing in a journal before bed ..or whatever. I wouldn't shame or let on you're this concerned (or think it could be Autism) etc.

Sometimes touch can feel good, and can ground kids (like twisting hair, or even sucking thumb, etc.).

Hope that helps :)

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

Try to relax. He’s found a way to self soothe that isn’t destructive. He may do this for a little while or it may be one of his “things”. On the grand scale of things, it’s a very harmless “tick” if it is one.

I would be so encouraged he’s found something that is calming to him. Do you realize some kids have complete meltdowns when they’re in uncomfortable situations leaving the parents in desperation while they try to figure out the triggers and how to cope? This is a quiet, gentle way of coping.

I used to twirl my hair when I was stressed. Still catch myself doing it sometimes. I’m glad my mom didn’t see it as something that was “abnormal”. Years ago a sweet commercial played with two sisters talking on the phone and the older sister asked if the younger was twisting her hair. My sister called and said I had to call you when I saw that commercial because that’s us.

Your kiddo will more than likely develop unique traits. Celebrate them, don’t see them as something that needs to be fixed. ❤️

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Stop Googling. It makes it worse.

Stop blaming yourself for not giving him enough. Giving your child 100% of yourself every day isn't beneficial for the child. It robs them of independence and confidence, first of all. But anxiety can take many forms and it's often a chemical imbalance and not a result of you not doing the right thing. I can't imagine why you would choose to panic and say he has no reason to be anxious without knowing what's going on. Your expressed reaction of "so confused, and helpless, and actually scared" shows that you have some anxiety as well. That isn't helping you. And it may not be helping him. Maybe he's picking up on your stress and fear? Children need to feel secure, not in the care of someone who is helpless.

Take a video of him doing this - quietly, without a lot of notice. Just set your phone in your hand and video him. Keep a journal of what else was going on that day or in the days leading up to it, and make a note of how long the stroking lasted. Show this to the pediatrician when your child is NOT in the room.

Work with a counselor for yourself and your child if no physical cause is evident. And get off Google. It's not your friend in medical situations.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

whether it's a tic or a self-soother (and often the two overlap) this is a relatively benign little habit. i get why you are concerned and want to get to the bottom of it, but i hope you can dial back the panic and fear and helplessness and desperation and tears.

Drama Lllama Mama is never a healthy or helpful response.

keep a journal and see if you can narrow down triggers. thoughtfully do a food elimination program. it could well be dietary. offer (gently and undramatically and without pressure) a fidget widget thing of some sort and see if he can redirect the behavior.

above all, STOP being so overt in your mini heart attacks and freaking out when you see it. you're his mom, and on a deep level it's got to be terrifying for him when you have conniptions over something that is relatively harmless. you're the adult here, it's on you to stop making a small thing into a huge thing.

if indeed there's something bigger underlying it, you won't discover it by panicking. you're a mom, and that means sometimes being a detective. keep working with medical professionals, offer him a distraction, discreetly log symptoms, and stay calm.


6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

it's not a tic - it's a soothing mechanism. This is what soothes him. Just like with my son, rubbing his thigh from his knee to his hip - gently - soothes him.

I wouldn't try to put him in a box or label him with anything. This soothes him and keeps him calm. It's not hurting anyone or anything. Let it be.\

Get off google!
Let him have some space. He doesn't need to be with you 100% of the time.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

You need to calm yourself down. Your craziness is what is causing your 3 year old to need to self-soothe.

Go to a counselor and get help with all your obsessing before you drive your child over the deep edge.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

How old is he? His age makes a difference. (Edit: Just read your other question -- so he's 3? Stroking his body doesn't seem all that unusual for a 3 year old.)

It sounds like something he does in certain circumstances, maybe as you say for self-soothing or because he's excited. Since he has no other signs of anything wrong you probably don't have to get too worried about it, especially if his ped isn't worried. It doesn't sound any weirder than thumb-sucking, for example. And I have observed otherwise "normal" kids do similar things over the years. Some kids just have unusual habits.

I agree with B that you might be a little anxious. I am too, so no judgement, but if you know you have this tendency then it might be a little easier not to freak out over concerns about your son. This site can be good place to have your fears allayed, because there are a lot of smart, experienced moms on here. (As long as people don't get too mad about you asking medical questions, which sometimes happens here. I personally think it's good to get the advice of other moms along with the advice of doctors, since I've experienced some pretty crappy doctors over the years.)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

I think you are overly worried! My advice is to not worry about it at all. There is no reason to feel scared or confused or helpless. It's just a habit that he will most likely outgrow. I have a question for you - do you suffer from this much anxiety from other things as well? From what you write here it sounds to me like you have a lot of anxiety. Anxiety is can learn productive ways of changing your thoughts and behavior by seeing a therapist who specialized in how to deal with it. Anxiety is also often passed down in families. It's's common and just something to work on in life. Your son can probably tell you get scared and have a "mini heart attack" when he rubs his feet...and this probably makes him feel bad. It's something that probably feels good...just a habit like biting finger nails or twisting hair. It's not something to freak out over.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

Mama, you need to stop. Your son needs time to himself. You need to stop being with him 100% of the time. Your son needs to be alone and do stuff by himself. IT's OKAY to let him do things alone.

This is NOT a tic. It's not a sign of autism or any other disease. It's called a soothing mechanism. This is how your son calms himself when something is upsetting him.

When he's doing it? don't get in his face. Don't ask him questions. Just let him soothe himself. He might need a break from you. I know that sounds harsh. But he might need to be more independent. Letting your kids do something on their own? It's OKAY!! Really. I promise. Even though you're a stay at home mom, it's OKAY to let him venture on his own and do things INDEPENDENTLY... doing things INDEPENDENTLY are good for him!!

You need a soothing mechanism yourself. Have you asked your doctor about Zoloft? You sound like you are anxiety filled. Step away from google and the computer. Do NOT try and give your son some label or put him in a box. He's NOT sick. He doesn't have a disease. He doesn't have some tic. STOP.

2 moms found this helpful
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