Rocking often helps kids fall asleep.

Why Do Children Rock in Bed?

by Sharon Perkins

If your nightly peace is interrupted by the thump, thump, thump of your toddler or preschooler rocking his crib or bed into the wall, the song "Rockabye Baby" might take on a whole new meaning in your house. Rocking is one of several self-soothing sleep behaviors in kids; for parents, it's less upsetting than head-banging but more disturbing -- of your sleep, if nothing else -- than head rolling. Rocking usually fades away over time; in some cases, persistent rocking can indicate developmental issues. Talk to your pediatrician about persistent rocking.

1. Why Kids Rock

There's a reason rocking chairs are popular: they're soothing. The rhythmic motion helps calm you down. Rocking at night before going to sleep or in the night when he wakes up does the same thing for your little rock-n-roller; it helps him calm himself. Some kids also rock in their sleep. Self-soothing behaviors can worsen if your kiddo is anxious or worried about something: the start of school, a move or a new sibling.

2. Typical Behavior

Rocking usually starts young -- around 6 months -- and is often long gone by age 2. But around 5 percent of 5-year-olds are still rocking the walls at night or when they're stressed, clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Dr. Jody Mindell reports. Rocking is an equal opportunity habit, with boys and girls rocking in equal numbers. Most rock for anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours, which is a long time to listen to your walls being assaulted, but most rock for 15 minutes or less at a time, according to the University of Michigan Health System. Most rockers rock on their hands and knees or sitting up. Some kids add humming or chanting to their rocking repertoire, as if one type of noise wasn't enough.

3. When to Be Concerned

Psychologists and medical doctors don't normally get too worked up about rocking and other self-soothing habits, unless they begin to take over your kid's life or they're associated with other unusual behaviors. If he's rocking a lot during the day and showing other signs of developmental delay, such as abnormal speech patterns, poor eye contact, not being interested in other kids or not meeting physical milestones, have his pediatrician check him out.

4. How to Handle Rocking

As long as your little person has no other worrying signs, the best way to deal with rocking is to ignore it. Put some type of padding between the wall and the bed or move his sleep quarters away from the wall if you fear for your house. The more attention you pay to this habit, the more likely he is to use it as a bargaining chip or weapon. At the same time, make sure he isn't wrecking his crib or bed or endangering himself by loosening bolts when he shakes it. A guardrail can keep him from rocking himself right onto the floor.

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