How to Discipline a Child With Tourette's

By Candace Webb
Get down to the child's eye level to discuss behavior issues.
Get down to the child's eye level to discuss behavior issues.

Tourette's syndrome is a brain-based disorder that causes uncontrollable urges to perform physical, vocal and mental tics. Examples of tics include touching people, repeating words over again until they sound right and moving body parts as if they are twitching. The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that 61 percent of people who have Tourette's syndrome also experience discipline issues and anger problems. According to the report, children with Tourette's frequently exhibit short tempers and are confrontational. Of those with Tourette's syndrome, 32 percent also have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Disciplining your child should include lessons in self-awareness and redirection.

Redirect compulsions to acceptable behaviors. For example, if the child has the need to touch others, make it a rule that he must ask the person if it is okay, and if it is, he can only touch the child in appropriate places such as an arm or shoulder. For a child with a spitting compulsion, provide a pocket-sized cloth for him to spit into throughout the day. Set up agreed-upon consequences for not redirecting his compulsive behaviors.

Use positive statements. Children with Tourette's often have impulse control issues as well. Speaking in negative terms, such as "If you don't put all your toys away in the next five minutes, you can't watch television," might compel a child with Tourette's to not comply. Instead, state your desire in positive words, such as, "I bet you can get those toys put away in time to watch your favorite show tonight!"

Set boundaries and stick with them. Children who have Tourette's syndrome often have explosive and manipulative personalities. Set firm limits about desired behaviors and expect him to comply. When he does not, follow through with the consequence.

Take his tics into account. Set the standards that he will be able to meet. For example, if his tics include coprolalia, which is the uncontrollable need to speak curse words, don't expect him to never curse. Instead, set up a reward system for any time he is able to control it until he gets in a room alone or is able to whisper the words instead of shouting them out.


Seek professional help for behaviors that are too difficult to handle.


Don't attribute all poor behaviors to the Tourette's syndrome, thereby encouraging the child to use the disorder as an excuse for poor choices.

About the Author

Candace Webb has been writing professionally since 1989. She has worked as a full-time journalist as well as contributed to metropolitan newspapers including the "Tennessean." She has also worked on staff as an associate editor at the "Nashville Parent" magazine. Webb holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in business from San Jose State University.