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Concerned about your kid’s head shaking? Here’s what you need to know

If your kid’s head is shaking, your first reaction might be to worry. That’s a perfectly understandable instinct and we’re here to let you know if there is reason to worry or not. It’s important to know, however, that without talking to a doctor, there isn’t a way to know definitively.

While you wait for that appointment, you can read up and ease your mind with some solid information about if baby head shaking is normal, if you should be concerned, what causes child head shaking, and what to do about it. It all depends on your child’s age as well as other symptoms and factors. Read on to find out more.

surprised baby girl
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Is head shaking normal in babies and toddlers?

Head shaking is a normal part of a baby’s behavior and development. Even as newborns, babies can move their heads side to side and “root” for milk. As they grow, they will explore movement and their range of vision by turning their heads side to side.

However, sometimes a baby’s shaking head may be caused by a medical issue. This could range from pain like an ear infection to a neurological issue like epilepsy.

As they get older, toddlers might shake their heads out of excitement at times, but there is not a reason to do so like there is for babies. Talk to your pediatrician if your child is shaking their head past the age of two. It is not part of typical development for a toddler or child over the age of two to repeatedly shake their head back and forth. It could be a self-soothing behavior, but you should check in with a doctor to find out the cause.

What is the meaning of a shaking head?

In babies, a shaking head has many potential reasons. They may be self-soothing or developing their neck muscles. If they’re trying to hold up their head it can shake because their muscles aren’t strong enough to hold their head steady or they’re shaking their head to strengthen their muscles.

In children older than babies, a shaking head could be a tremor or a tic. Tremors or tics could be caused by several different conditions and would likely be accompanied by other symptoms. While some conditions are serious and rare, a tic disorder is fairly common in children and can be treated by a general pediatrician. Most of the time, the tics resolve and subside by the time a child reaches their 20s. You should see a pediatrician to talk about your concerns.

Neurological problems like rhombencephalosynapsis can also cause persistent side-to-side head shaking. If your baby or child seems unable to control other parts of their body besides their head, that could be a sign of an issue that isn’t part of typical development.


Should I worry about my baby’s shaking head?

It is usually normal for babies to shake their heads side to side. However, always feel free to reach out to your doctor if you’re concerned or have questions. If your baby or child is showing any other symptoms in addition to head shaking, get in touch. Seek medical attention if your baby starts to seem very limp or if their whole body is shaking. Head banging can also be normal in babies but should stop by age two, just like head shaking.

Head shaking is one potential sign of autism if combined with other signs, but on its own, it isn’t a clear cause to think your child is on the spectrum. Not meeting other milestones, not understanding social cues, and other major markers are more likely to clue you into autism than only head shaking. However, head shaking is on the list of signs.

What should I do about my child’s head shaking?

You don’t need to do anything about your baby’s shaking head if there are no accompanying issues (other body parts shaking, for example). However, any time you’re concerned, have a question or have an off feeling, give the pediatrician a call.

If your child who is over the age of two is shaking their head, you should talk to a pediatrician. If the shaking comes on suddenly and seems like a seizure, go to the hospital.

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Sarah Prager
Sarah is a writer and mom who lives in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National…
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