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Head banging and rocking - young children

head; banging; rocking; sleep; disturbances; habits;

Head banging by a young child just as he or she is about to fall asleep is common. Rocking in bed is even more common.

Much of the content of this topic comes from a Parent Easy Guide about habits developed by Parenting SA - A partnership between the Department for Education and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network South Australia.
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Head banging by a young child just as he or she is about to fall asleep is common.

  • Up to 30% of 12 month old children bang their head before they go to sleep.
  • It usually starts by about 8 to 9 months, and is rare after 2 years.

Rocking in bed is even more common, with between 40% and 60% of children rocking rhythmically before going to sleep when they are around 9 months old, decreasing to about 5% to 10% when they are 5 years old.

There are theories that head banging and rocking might be due to not enough stimulation or contact with parents during the day, but it seems likely that something that is this common is 'normal', and for some reason head banging and rocking help little children to relax into sleep. After all, younger babies very often settle into sleep more easily if they are rocked.

  • Any sudden change in the pattern of a child's sleep may be triggered by something stressful happening in her life, but head banging and rocking often happen when there are no new stresses.
  • Rocking and head banging that last for a short time when a child is falling asleep do not appear to be linked to psychological problems, but if a child is also rocking a lot or head banging while awake, and there are other behaviours that you are concerned about, talk to your doctor about her development.
  • Even though the sound of the head banging might be quite loud, it seems that it does not hurt children.

What you could try

There is no need to try to stop the behaviours, and trying to stop them is often not successful.

  • It has been suggested that gently stroking a child's head while he is going off to sleep may help him relax, but you might find that you are having to do this every time he goes to sleep.
  • Making the side of the cot softer by using cot bumpers or pillows is not recommended because of the risk of suffocation. Even if they were tried, children seem to push them aside and still bang their head against the side of the cot.
  • Move the cot away from the wall if the banging or rocking is making a noise that disturbs others.
  • Check and tighten all of the screws and other fastenings on the cot often, because the banging and rocking can loosen them.


South Australia

Parent Helpline 1300 364 100

Talk with your doctor - if your child is having very disturbed sleep an assessment by a specialist in child health could be of use, and maybe a referral to a Sleep Disorders unit.

More information

The Raising Children Network webiste also has information about head banging and rocking

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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