Babies often rock back and forth in their cribs starting around 6 months of age and are usually growing out of it by around a year and a half. The motion of their own bodies is soothing; babies love the sensation of being rocked by themselves or others.
Some children (and adults!) also use rhythmic movements to “calm their nerves.” Rocking back and forth or shaking their legs helps to relieve stress. The behavior may be done almost subconsciously (without conscious intention or awareness) – it just seems to happen on its own. In other words, the child or teen does not actively think to him or herself, “I’ll rock now” or “I’ll shake my legs now.” While the child is sitting in a chair working or talking, the movements occur. Other people can interrupt the process by pointing it out: “Stop shaking your legs!” At that point, the child becomes aware that he or she was moving his legs. However, just a few minutes after stopping the movement, it usually starts again.
If your child is a “mover and shaker,” consider the following tips:
Rhythmic Movements are Usually Harmless
In otherwise normal children and teens, rocking and/or shaking is a harmless “nervous habit.” However, like other nervous habits, it can become socially unacceptable. Excessive movements disturb other people, even though they don’t seem to bother the rocker/shaker. There is an annoyance factor when someone keeps moving his or her body. If your child’s teacher reports negative peer reactions or other disturbances in school as a result of rocking or shaking, it’s time to help your child lose this habit and find more appropriate ways to self-soothe. When rocking and other rhythmic behaviors occur in a child who has other neurological or behavioral abnormalities, be sure to get a complete medical or psychiatric assessment. In these cases, the rocking may be part of a medical syndrome that requires attention.
Nagging Doesn’t Help
Telling a child to stop rocking or shaking is not an effective way of curing the habit. Although the child may stop for a moment or two, he or she will start again. Since the behavior is out of the child’s awareness, he or she is not exactly aware of when it begins or even that it is happening and therefore, has no effective way to interrupt it on a regular basis. It is annoying for the child to be told repeatedly to stop moving. Since this strategy causes tension between parent and child and does not effectively treat the problem, it cannot be recommended!
Stress Reduction May Help
Anything that helps the child relax his or her nervous system will help both directly and indirectly. The direct form of help is that it may relieve the tension and therefore the need to self-soothe. The indirect form is that it may make it easier for the child to successfully apply behavioral strategies. Herbal remedies or Bach Flower Remedies that calm the body and mind can be very helpful in both regards. See a professional herbalist or naturopath to assess your child and make up the appropriate herbal remedies. Alow time to see the results. Similarly, see a Bach Flower Practitioner to make up an individually tailored treament bottle for your child. Consider remedies like Agrimony and Impatiens and others that address your child’s personality. A homeopath or other natural healer may be able to help as well. In addition, it may be possible to teach the child stress reduction techniques like yoga or even breath-based meditations (or, for teens, mindfulness meditation). In some cases, regular, intense exercise will be helpful. Of course, reducing stress in the house is always helpful so anything you can do to keep calm, enhance your marriage and de-stress yourself, will help as well.
When rocking becomes dysfunctional (excessive, bothersome, embarrassing or otherwise disturbing), consult a behavioral therapist – someone who is experienced and skilled in the treatment of habits. There are also habit removal workbooks (i.e. The Habit Change Workbook by Pedrick) that you may be able to work through with your child or that your older child or teen can work through indepedently.