If you notice a toddler rocking back and forth, should you worry?

The grandma in this question has a 2-year-old toddler who rocks back and forth every time he sits down, and she is worried that there’s something wrong with him.

toddler rocking back and forth
Grandma’s Question:

My grandson, who is 2 years old, always rocks back and forth in every chair he sits in, no matter what he is doing, eating, watching tv, etc. What is this all about? Is he sick in some way, or is this normal for a toddler?


Toddler Rocking Back And Forth: When To Worry

Don’t worry about your son’s rocking; it is actually normal! Many children from six months on use rocking as a soothing thing. When you think about it, what do most parents do when trying to soothe a baby? Rock them! And that rocking motion is what they are used to in the womb. Some babies even rock and hit their heads rhythmically against the crib! Perhaps Mom was a jogger!

Usually, toddlers grow out of it by age three or so.

As long as your grandson responds normally, making eye contact and trying to communicate, I am sure there is nothing to worry about. Autistic children sometimes rock or make other repetitive motions, so if you have other concerns about his responsiveness or development, then, by all means, check with his doctor. You can read this guide about early autism signs and symptoms.

Of course, if your grandson appears to be ill, so the rocking could be to mitigate pain, this should be dealt with.

You’ll find toddler development milestones here.

But from how you describe his behavior – that it is when in a chair while watching TV, eating, etc. – I suspect he has associated eating, TV, etc., as comfortable, soothing activities when in a chair, and rocking just adds to his comfort.

How to Act as a Parent When a Child is Rocking Back and Forth

Don’t try to stop him or prevent his rocking; that will create a problem when in actual fact, he is taking care of his own comfort by self-soothing.

For young children, distraction is the best way to deal with unwanted behaviors. Just ignore the rocking or positively grab your child’s attention by talking, playing, or singing together.

Sometimes children rock back and forth because they are understimulated and bored. However, since your grandson is rocking while doing enjoyable things, this should be the case for him.

Rocking Back and Forth – Autism-Related or Not

I want to show you a video that includes clear examples of how Autistic children may behave compared to children that do not have ASD. The children in this video are older, but I still think the comparisons are valuable to watch as they clearly show rocking and other repetitive behaviors that may be related to autism. A toddler that rocks back and forth, and is developing normally in all other ways, is unlikely to be autistic.

5 Signs You DO NOT Have Autism

Here’s a baby who is self-soothing in in another unusual way – by hitting her head when trying to go to sleep. This article also brings up sleep-related rhythmic disorders, which is when the rocking, head banging, or similar is frequent and violent enough to disrupt the child’s sleep.

He is a lucky wee boy to have a concerned Grandma; enjoy your time with him.


Research Reference

Flapping, Spinning, Rocking, and Other Repetitive Behaviors: Intervening With Young Children Who Engage in Stereotypy

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