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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 – this bedtime or sleep behaviour rarely causes harm, and most children stop by the time they’re three years old.
Crying baby in cot credit iStockphoto.com/Metin Kiyak

Did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • Most young children rock back and forth on all fours occasionally.
  • Around one in five children behave this way more regularly.
 

Sleep issues: body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging

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

  • are common and nearly always harmless
  • are repetitive, rhythmic behaviours that usually happen as children fall asleep
  • can happen at any time.

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 her head backwards against the headboard
  • lie face down and bang her head and chest into the pillow or mattress
  • lie on her back and move her head or her body from side to side
  • make noises while she’s rocking.
Body-rocking often starts at around six months of age, and head-rolling and head-banging usually start at around nine months of age. Boys are three times more likely than girls to head-bang. It’s uncommon to see this behaviour after three years of age.

Simple tips to handle body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging

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 ideas that might help:

  • 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).
  • Try to make sure your child isn’t spending too long in bed before falling asleep.
  • 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.
  • Sometimes the whole family can be disturbed by the noise. You could try putting your child’s mattress on the floor to help reduce the noise, or change the room she’s sleeping in.
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 rock, roll and bang their heads in bed

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. You could start by talking to your GP or child and family health nurse.
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  • Last Updated 25-08-2014
  • Last Reviewed 02-06-2014
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