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Why Do Children Rock in Bed?

author image Jon Williams
Jon Williams is a clinical psychologist and freelance writer. He has performed, presented and published research on a variety of psychological and physical health issues.
Why Do Children Rock in Bed?
Rocking in bed is a normal behavior Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

Body rocking refers to when a child rocks rhythmically while sitting or resting on his knees on all fours. The Raising Children Network reports that body rocking is a common behavior in young children, usually occurring while the child is falling asleep or listening to music. Although the behavior may cause concern in some parents, it is harmless and quite common. Most children rock occasionally, and 1 in 5 children rock on all fours regularly.

Rocking Onset and Duration

Generally, children start rocking around 6 months of age. During particular episodes, children generally rock for 15 minutes or less. Usually, rocking behavior stops within 18 months or so, according to the Raising Children Network. Occasionally, it stops as quickly as a few weeks. Sometimes, children rock back and forth hard enough that they bang their head on the wall, headboard or other nearby objects. Children rarely hurt themselves unless they have a severe developmental disability.

Related Behaviors

Children who rock might display other associated behaviors, suggests the Raising Children Network. Your child may sit in the bed and bang his head backward against the pillow or headboard; lie face down and rock in place, banging his against the pillow or mattress; lie on the mattress and rock his head back and forth, or stand in the bed holding the rails, banging his head against the railings.

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Repetitive, rhythmic rocking is a form of self-soothing. Children sometimes rock themselves to sleep, according to the University of Michigan Health System. They start when they are drowsy and stop when they fall asleep; or rock when they are having stress or anxiety during the day. If your child is experiencing changes in his daily routine or life circumstances, you might observe increases in her rocking.

Further Causes

Though rocking behavior is often a part of normal development, it can be dangerous for children with autism, developmental delays and those with neurological problems, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Joseph M. Carver, PhD, at Ask the Psychologist, warns that rocking is sometimes associated with ADHD. In normal rocking, children will be playful, happy, engage or relaxed. They occasionally will have eye contact with you. If your child is mechanistic or in a trance-like state when rocking, and if you observe other behavioral anomalies, then the rocking behavior may indicate a developmental problem.

Diagnosing Problem Rocking

Obsessive, machine-like rocking, along with other repetitive motions may indicate a developmental or neurological problem, according to Kids' Behaviour. Children with developmental issues will likely display problems with social skills or language. Your child should be able to communicate her needs, should desire attention from you and should say a word or two like “Mama” or “Dada” by age 1. If you have concerns regarding your child’s development or behavior, speak with her pediatrician. If you worry about the intensity of the rocking, video tape your child rocking and show the video to your pediatrician.


If your child shows normal social, communication and language skills, and is otherwise developing normally, then you likely have no cause to worry about rocking behavior. If your child continues to rock beyond age 2 or 3, or if she displays other developmental issues, speak with your pediatrician. Otherwise, you may be best off ignoring the rocking, advises the Raising Children Network. The reward of attention may inadvertently reinforce the rocking behavior. If you have concerns about your child hurting himself, remove the hard headboard, or move the bed away from the wall. You can help ameliorate your child’s anxiety, and potentially reduce rocking, by spending some quality bonding time right before bedtime. You can also assist your child learn other ways to self-sooth by providing objects, such as a favored blanket or stuffed toy, she can use for comfort as she transitions into sleep.

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