Guide to Your Child's Symptoms
Rocking/Head Banging

In General:

Head banging and rocking are quite common among normal children and are also seen in those with developmental problems. In normal children, repetitive head banging and rocking, while alarming to parents, are harmless and gradually stop over a period of months. If they continue longer, the child should be evaluated by your pediatrician. Some experts theorize that the actions begin as normal behavior and are part of the child's efforts to master movement as she gradually gains control of her body. Thus, a child who starts head rocking as early as 4 or 5 months may be rocking her whole body at 6 to 10 months as she develops more skills.

Nobody knows why children bang their heads and rock, but it's interesting that these rhythmic habits-body rocking, head banging, and head rolling-all stimulate the vestibular system of the inner ear, which controls balance. They are not usually associated with developmental delay, although children who have certain types of disabilities often repeat movements, as do autistic children and others with oversensitive nervous systems.

Children usually outgrow rocking, rolling, and head banging between 18 months and 2 years of age, but repetitive actions are sometimes still seen in older children and adolescents.

Consult your pediatrician if your child is frequently nodding or shaking her head and:

  • Doesn't interact with her parents.
  • Has developmental delays.

Questions to consider

Does your baby of about 6 months rock vigorously in his crib for up to 15 minutes at a time, or even longer? Does this activity often occur when he's left alone to fall asleep or listen to music? Is there any particular event or stimulus that either triggers or stops the behavior?
If answer is Yes
Possible cause is Body rocking as part of a baby's normal development.
Action to take Body rocking is harmless and seems to comfort the child. It will gradually stop as your child becomes more mobile, and is usually gone by the age of 2 or 3, although some form of body movement may last through adolescence.

Does your child bang his head hard and often-as many as 60 to 80 times a minute-against solid objects such as his crib? Does the head banging follow a head-rolling or body-rocking phase? Does your child also suck his thumb or rub a blanket as he bangs his head?
If answer is Yes
Possible cause is Head banging.
Action to take This inexplicable behavior seems to comfort the child but distresses the parents, who fear that their baby will hurt himself. In fact, it doesn't seem to worry babies (more often boys) who often look relaxed and happy while they bang their heads. It usually starts at about 6 months and stops by the time a child is 2 years old.

Has your baby rubbed a bald spot with her constant head rolling or shaking? Is she otherwise active and happy? Do her eyes move normally?
If answer is Yes
Possible cause is This harmless habit may also appear in a child who can sit up. It may start as early as 6 months and usually disappears before the child reaches 2 years
Action to take Head rolling or rubbing.

Does your developmentally disabled child bang her head or perform other rhythmic actions? Are you concerned that she may injure herself?
If answer is Yes
Possible cause is Developmental disorder or autistic behavior.
Action to take Consult your pediatrician, who may prescribe a short-term medication to calm the child and recommend a helmet to protect her head.

Coping with head banging

Children are rarely, if ever, harmed by this behavior, but if you are concerned that your child may injure himself, or the behavior is not diminishing over months, consult your pediatrician.

Your baby will eventually outgrow head banging and body rocking. In the meantime, however, the movement and noise that seem to give him pleasure may cause a great deal of wear and tear on your family's nerves. You can't restrain the baby or make him stop the activity, but you can take a few simple steps to keep the noise at the lowest possible level.

Pull the crib away from the wall and place it on a thick rug. Fit rubber or plastic carpet protectors on the legs of the crib to lessen noise and make it harder for your baby to move the crib as he rocks. Use a padded crib bumper that goes all the way around the crib. Secure it with at least 6 ties to keep it from falling away at the sides. Trim the ties to no more than 6 inches long and double-knot them. Some pediatricians suggest using a metronome or playing music with a strong beat to regulate the head banging.

Place a mobile over the crib to divert your baby with different shapes and bright colors. A mobile with a built-in music box that plays a repetitive tune can be soothing for a baby trying to fall asleep. Your baby may have fun with a gym across the top of the crib or an activity center attached to the side. Watch your baby's reaction to mobiles and gyms, however; some babies find them frightening and cry until they are removed. In any case, mobiles, gyms, and crib bumpers must be removed at 5 months, which is when many babies are making serious attempts to sit, get up on all fours, or pull themselves to a standing position. Even very young babies love to get ready for naps by spending several minutes looking at a picture book, or hearing their parents singing songs or nursery rhymes. Music playing softly in the room may put your baby in the mood for sleep.


2001 - American Academy of Pediatrics