By Raising Children Network
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If you’ve seen your young child body-rocking, head-rolling or head-banging, you know how disturbing this can be. But take heart – these behaviours rarely cause harm, and most children stop by 18 months.

Crying baby in cot credit Kiyak

Did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • Most young children rock back and forth on all fours occasionally.
  • Around one in five children do it more regularly.

The basics

Body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging:

  • are common and nearly always harmless
  • are repetitive, rhythmic behaviours
  • are most common at bedtime, before going to sleep, or after a child wakes during the night or in the morning
  • usually disappear within 18 months, and might do so in as little as weeks or months.

Your child might:

  • get on all fours and rock back and forth, hitting her forehead on the headboard or edges of the cot
  • sit in bed and bang his head backwards against the headboard
  • lie face down and bang her head and chest into the pillow or mattress
  • stand in his cot, hold onto the side rail, and bang his head against it
  • lie on her back and move her head from side to side.
Body-rocking often starts at around six months of age, while head-rolling and head-banging start at around nine months of age. Boys are three times more likely than girls to head-bang. It’s uncommon to see these behaviours after three years of age.

Some simple tips

If your child is developing well in all other ways, you might decide to put up with the body-rocking, head-rolling or head-banging. This behaviour will eventually go away.

Here are some other things that might be useful to keep in mind:

  • Try to pay no attention to the behaviour. Children might repeat the behaviour even more if they see it’s an effective way of getting your attention or getting you to come into the bedroom (even if it is only to tell them to stop).
  • Set aside extra quiet time to spend together before bed if you’re concerned your child might be experiencing some anxiety. Offer comfort and support if your child seems anxious. If you have special time together, your child might need you less after you say goodnight.
  • Remove any hard bedheads or shift the bed away from the wall if you’re worried about your child getting hurt. This will help stop the risk of bruising.
Children who rock, roll or head-bang at night are usually drowsy and will stop once sleep comes. A child who doesn’t have a severe disability won’t get seriously hurt by body-rocking, head-rolling or head-banging. The main damage might just be to your furniture and walls!

Why children do it

Rhythmic behaviour is comforting and soothing, even in normally developing children. You might notice your child doing it more if he’s experiencing some anxiety or stress during the day. But by itself, rocking, banging or rolling doesn’t mean your child has an emotional problem.

If you notice your child has started this behaviour at a time of major change, or your child seems to be having trouble coping with something, offering comfort and support might help.

If you continue to be concerned about your child’s rocking, or are concerned about other areas in your child’s development, seek professional advice.
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  • Last Updated 18-02-2010
  • Last Reviewed 12-08-2009
  • Giglio, P., Undevia, N., & Spire, J-P. (2005). The primary parasomnias: A review for neurologists. The Neurologist, 11, 90-97.

    Hoban, T.F. (2003). Rhythmic movement disorder in children. CNS Spectrums, 8 (2), 135-138.

    Kuhn, B.R. & Elliott, A.J. (2003). Treatment efficacy in behavioral pediatric sleep medicine. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 54, 587-597.

    Owens, J.L., France, K.G., & Wiggs, L. (1999). Behavioural and cognitive-behavioural interventions for sleep disorders in infants and children: A review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 3, 281-302.