Ask AF: Rocking and Sleep

Rocking is a common sensory-seeking behavior, particularly for children who spent time in institutionalized settings.

Q: We adopted our daughter at age two from an orphanage. She’s nine now, and is getting self-conscious about the fact that she still rocks her head back and forth to fall asleep. How can we help her stop it?


A: Rocking — a sensory-seeking behavior noted in many institutionalized children — is a way for your daughter to calm and soothe herself as she transitions from being awake to being asleep. Talk to your daughter and see if she is interested in seeing someone who may be able to help her stop this behavior. If so, look for an occupational therapist with experience in sensory integration.

Keep in mind that the behavior may be deeply ingrained. If this seems to be the case, focus on the positives — for example, commend her for being able to fall asleep without your help. Let her know that many children (and even adults) have their habitual ways of falling asleep — some of us require noise, music, or a comforting blanket. I’ve seen some institutionalized children who still need pacifiers at an older age.

Copyright © 1999-2023 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this

Elizabeth Curry with some of her children featured in May M. Tchao's documentary Hayden and Her Family.