Shaking/Tremors in Children

Parent Q&A

  • My son constantly shakes his head side to side at random times like a “no” motion, but it looks uncontrolled. Somewhat like this:

    We have no reason to believe he has autism as he responds to his name, smiles at us, reacts positively to strangers and plays with our dogs while giggling.

    On the developmental side, he has started to finally pull up, almost standing on his own. He didn’t ever really crawl, only army crawl until recently.

    Any thoughts and help would be appreciated 🙏

    There's not enough information to say your child does not have autism. If you're really concerned, talk to your doctor and don't let strangers on the internet convince you not to follow up.

    That said, you absolutely want your child to crawl, it's one of the most impactful developmental skills for babies. Teach him to crawl, practice, play games crawling, get those crawl through tunnels or make a tunnel with boxes or furniture. Crawling is important and skipping that could be related to all sorts of later problems. Crawl!

    The head shaking sounds like it may be self stimulation/self soothing (though "uncontrolled" make me wonder about possible seizures- not sure what you mean by that). That could be related to autism, sensory integration disorder, vision problems, or even within the range of normal (like babies that like to be rocked to sleep, it's not uncommon). But without more information, there no way to know if it's normal or a concern. Talk to your doctor, if you want more of an expert, a developmental pediatrician would be the expert.

    Several moms in a group that I'm in reported same head-shaking behaviros around 10-12 months. My sons did this too, sometimes when he found it funny and sometimes when he's getting tired near bedtime. It went away after a month or so. Probably just a phase. 

    What a perfectly concise reply you already received, a summary of what would have been a ramble and not as clear from me. :)

    Just wanted to agree 100% with that reply and also emphasis importance of crawling even if for a little bit. I would also say speak with your pediatrician, or just call directly as a parent, to have an early intervention screening. I work in EI and many families do that—trust those instincts as you know your baby best. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

My eight month old baby is shaking her head

Nov 2008

My eight month old little baby girl has started to shake her head from left to right quite violently. I am very worried about this. She is a very, very sweet little baby, she is happy generally and doing all the developmental things expected, but has started shaking her head. At first I thought it may be that I was not giving her enough attention all of a sudden (as I've been job hunting), then I thought is it behavioural (as I have been wigged/stressed out and I had a heated argument in her presence), then I thought is it something medical (she has always been active and waved her arms and legs around alot since she was born and she was also very active in the womb), and I am very worried about it. I have seen messages on the internet stating ''my baby has the same thing'' several times, but I saw only one message stating that their baby ''grew out'' of it. Has anyone had this happen to their baby and has an answer, some suggestions, or advice or guidance? Thank you so much. Vicky

Mine did, and still does, the same thing. I've seen other babies do it. She laughs when she shakes her head vigorously and we actually taught her to shake her head on command. I don't think it's a big issue. She's one now and isn't doing it as often as before. I do notice that she tends to do it more when it's late in the day and she's starting to get tired. anon

My son shook his head like that when he was about the same age. It freaked me out. I think he was just learning that new feeling and controll of his body. He outgrew it. I don't think it lasted too long...a few months? He's 17 now, a senior in high school, smart, social, a great kid and applying to colleges. I'd say don't worry. proud mom of former head shaker

My son has been doing this too, starting about the same age as your child; he's 12 months now. Don't stress it. I think it's just fun for them. My son also likes to make himself dizzy by turning around and around in circles, which I think is the same sort of behavior. Not my idea of fun, but hey, I'm not a baby anymore! Don't stress, Mom

Hi! I just wanted to tell you that my son did the same thing at 6 months. I took him to his pediatrician's office and talked to a doctor (not his usual doctor) who had a child of the same age. He was very reassuring and examined my son thoroughly. His take? Babies like new sensations that they can control, so my son basically enjoyed the feeling of vigorously shaking his head. He also enjoyed my reaction! The doctor recommended that I not react at all to the head shaking and soon my son had moved on to another new behavior (I forgot what that was. He's a healthy four and a half year old now!). Definitely check with your pediatrician if you are worried, but if your daughter is healthy baby, it doesn't sound like you need to be too stressed! anon

My 6-month old has recently started doing the same thing. She mostly does it when she's tired. I've checked with two doctors and both see no reason to worry. It can be a self-soothing movement or just a new movement they're practicing that feels good. I agree with you that it can look alarming but I'm certain it will pass and that there's no reason to worry (of course, given that she's healthy and alert otherwise). anon

Jerky arm movements in a 6 month old

March 2007

Our 6 month old son seems normal in every aspect (smiling, babbling, making good eye contact, etc.) but has really jerky arm movements and is always kicking or moving whenever he is lying down. Standing up he is always constantly moving around as well. His movements are such that we have to swaddle him at night to contain him or else he will constantly wake himself up. I don't know whether this is normal or not? When should he be growing out of these jerky movements? Nothing seems to be repetitive-he's not rocking or flapping his arms in the same pattern all the time. Any advice?

i was worried about the same thing in my son. he is now 21 months and well-coordinated, active, and as intelligent as a tot should be. i was sure he had some mental problem! he couldn't find his hand to suck on at night (and his 3 month old sister could find her hand since 1 month). oh yeah, and he couldn't grab at toys the same way some kids seemed to, either. don't worry! i am sure your son is just doing things at his own pace. beth

Infant's head thrashing

August 2006

I know it's a weird heading, but I didn't know what else to call it. Sometimes when my 7 month old daugther is lying down, especially if she's about to go to sleep, she'll turn her head left and right really fast. It's almost as if she's trying to itch the back of her head, which does sometimes get irritated at her bald spot. At other times, it looks involuntary, as if she can't help it. Whatever it is, I've never seen another baby do it before. Can you shed any light on this? lydia

Our son quite often rubbed his head back and forth (maybe a second or two on each side for a number of repetitions?) before falling asleep as an infant. He never did this while awake, and he's basically stopped now that he's a year old. It always seemed like something that that he had discovered that helped him to zone out and relax into sleep. mom

intermittently from 7-9 months of age our son would rapidly shake his head back and forth both sitting and when laying down. It seemed entirely involuntary and was a little frightening, but it always happened when he was tired and somehow it struck me as familiar. After wracking my brain for days, I remembered that he used to thrash his head back and forth like that when he was swaddled (since we swaddled him so tightly that his head was the only thing he could move!) I think he simply associated the head shaking with falling asleep. He outgrew it by the time he was 10 months of age. Robin

I can't offer you any particulalry enlightening reason for the head thrashing, but I can tell you that my son does it too. It's barely a ''thrash'', more like a vigorous shaking the back and forth like he's saying ''no''- so I haven't been worried that he could hurt himself- don't know if that's the case with you too. He's a year and a half and has been doing it for a while- probably at least a year. I've only seen him do it before he falls asleep, and only occasionally. I just take it as a sign that his body's trying to put him to sleep, which is helpful to know, though kind of funny to watch. Interesting to know that some other kids do it too. Monica

I meant to respond to this the first time around. My now 13 month old has done exactly the same thing since around 5 months. Only in the crib and only when he's very tired. I think he wants to stay awake and play but he's really tired so he literally tries to fight sleep off by shaking it out of his head. It never works, of course, but I applaud his efforts! Jill

My baby (now 11 months old) had done it since he was really young. I believe that it is a way for him to rock himself to sleep. My husband told me that he rocked himself to sleep everynight until he was a teenager, so I just assumed that my son's behavior is related. When I see him do that, I know he is ready to go to sleep. mom of other baby with head thrashing

8-month-old's involuntary head jerking

Nov 2004

My 8 mo. old baby girl developed a sideways head jerk about 2 weeks ago. It's totally involuntary, to either side, but more often to the right, and happens several times a day. Sometimes she jerks her head once and sometimes 2 or 3 times. We thought it was happening more when she seemed tired, but today it happened after a nap, over and over for a good few minutes. She is otherwise healthy, happy and developing ahead of her age motorically. She has seemed more irritable or frustrated lately, but nothing out of the ordinary for a developing baby. Our pediatrician thinks it is some kind of a head tick (what is that?) and has referred us to neurology at Children's Hospital. We are pretty scared. She is our third and I have never seen a baby move this way before. Does anyone have any experience or advice with this sort of thing? Thank you very much. Lior

I'm just writing to let you know that I've seen it. I'm sorry I do not have a better response. But yes, I've seen ticks of the head. It's completely involuntary and the person often forgets that their head ticks at that moment - unless of course - they're teased as a child and/or experience confused looks from others. Please do what you are doing - looking into it with specialists - go as far as you can to see how it can be corrected. Good luck and my heart goes out to you and baby. Sam

I too was concerned when my baby would jerk her head from side to side! We were especially concerned because we were in a car accident when our baby was 4 days old. I spoke to many girlfriends and my doctor and found out that it is VERY common for babies to shake their heads back and forth! I was so surprised by how many of my girlfriends' babies did the same thing. The only thing is that no one knew why (and neither did my doctor) but all of them seemed to grow out of it. My daughter is now 9 months old and very rarely shakes her head - my girlfriend's baby did it until a year old. Be patient - it's one of those normal wierd things that babies do. Our doctor said he would send us to a nuerologist if we wanted, but he honestly said the testing and medication would probably be worse for the baby than the head shaking itself. Feel free to email me if you want to talk! Good luck!

This one just popped out at me. My brother has Tourette's Syndrome which causes involuntary ticks. It can be either mild or severe and can vary with eye blinking ticks, head ticks, or even vocally. It's also associated with Obsesive Compulsive Disorder. I'm not sure if this could be the cause of your daugther's ticks but thought you might want to ask the neurologist if this could be a possiblity. I know with my parents, it took them until my brother was around 10 years old to find out what was wrong. Tourette's was still pretty new to doctors. My brother now takes medication daily (Haldol) which has helped him and the ticks are not noticeable. And, of course, I may be off on this, but thought it would be good to know of this. I wish the best for your daughter! Good Luck! caitlin

We also experienced this when our son was about six months old. Our pediatrician also sent us to Children's to see a neurologist. We agonized for weeks over this until we got in to see her. Thank god the neurologist said he was fine - just a sensation he enjoyed feeling. She then commented how nice it was to see a healthy child. So hang in there hopefully you will have a similar result! When we told our pediatrician the results she smiled and said I thought so - just wanted to be safe.

I am concerned that your baby could be having seizures called infantile spasms. It is a good thing that you have an appointment with a neurologist but unless it is within a few days I would try to get help sooner. Have you vidio taped these head jerks?

Infantile spasms are unfortunately not understood or recognized by pediatricians as well as they should be. My son began having them at 5mos old and they became more and more frequent until we brought him to the emergency room and got a speedy diagnosis. They are usually treatable and depending on the diagnosis there are some medications better than others.

Your baby's movements do not sound classic because she is moving her head from side to side. However, I have heard of many different variations and thought I would discribe them to you: Infantile spasms come in a series usually and they often make the baby upset, or cause a happy baby to become an irritable one. They usually cause the baby to flex their head forward or back, often with arm movements. They often happen when they are tired or upon waking (as do many seizures types). Infantile spasms are very serious and left untreated can cause brain damage.

I don't mean to alarm you, and I hope this is not what she is experiencing. I just thought because of the seriousness of infantile spasms I would let you know about them so that you can get help immediately if you think this is what she might have.

Infantile spasms may be caused by many disorders, including the one my son has. If your daughter has any white spots on her body she may have what my son does. You may contact me if you would like to learn more. Kristin

9-month-old shuddering her upper body

May 2005

my nine month old girl has this habit of shuddering her upper body, in much of the same way an older child or adult would do when eating something extremely tart; however, there doesn't seem to be any obvious stimuli causing this. there's no pattern as to when she does it--at the times it occurs, she's not eating anything, she's not cold, she's not expressing glee or anxiety. her pediatrician says she could be pleasuring herself, but i find this unlikely and his answer unacceptable. i'm a little concerned that this is an early sign of something neurologically-related that will surface when she's older. if your baby/child has this same behavior, please reassure me that it's completely normal. concerned mama

The movement you describe sounds very similar to something our daughter was doing a lot when she was 10 and 11 months old. We were very worried about it and searched all over for information, without finding much that was helpful. Our pediatrician was fairly reassuring--we weren't able to get her to do it in his office (even though at that time it seemed that she was doing it many times a day), but from our description he was confident that it wasn't anything seizure-related. When we weren't completely panicked about neurological disorders, back then we sometimes thought it was connected with fatigue or over-excitement. It did seem to happen less when she was well rested.

We never found a medical explanation, but the behavior gradually tapered off so that it had stopped almost completely by the time she turned one. Now, at fifteen months, it suddenly seems clear that it's voluntary--she does it now and then when she's very happy or when she's trying to get her father's attention (he's the exciting one). This will sound really bizarre, but yesterday she did it several times in a row after she heard me telling him that she had learned to ''shake her head'' to say no--apparently she picked up on the word ''shake'' and wanted to show me she understood it! Since our short phase of panicking about this in the fall I've also seen another baby the same age do exactly the same thing and heard a couple of people talk about it as connected with fatigue. relieved mother

My daughter did the same thing when she about 9-10 months. I couldn't find any situational consistency as to what prompted her to do this. I, too, was concerned about some neurological abnormality, but in hindsight it was just a phase which passed quite quickly. It certainly didn't look to me like she was pleasuring herself. At the time she was teething, so I figured that it might have been due to her biting her sensitive gums. Not sure whether that had anything to do with it, but I haven't seen her do it at all since about her first birthday. Antje

Our son did that for months around that age. It looked as if he was ''getting the chills'' or ''sucking on a lemon'' or something like that. I worried too, but in the bottom of my heart knew he was ok. Now he is 26 months and doesn't do that anymore (except with his bowel movements) and nothing is neurologically wrong with him. jo

My baby did this all the time at that age, and with alarming frequency, and it scared the crap out of me as well. The doctor shrugged her shoulders and gave it a medical name, which basically translated as ''baby shudders involuntarily.'' A nanny told me, with great certainty (and incorrectly) that she was peeing when she shuddered (she shuddered when naked with no pee). I later realized that I sometimes get this little ''shudder'' which I call ''chills'' periodically, and my dad told me he does that. Of course, I've never seen my dad do that and I don't do it as often or as dramatically as the baby, and of course as a first-time parent I was convinced that something horrible was wrong. however, I waited it out, and my daughter (now nearly 3) has NO neurological problems, and she doesn't shudder as often, and I don't worry about it anymore. I would say that if she doesn't ''zone out'' (like a seizure, as if her brain is not functioning during it), then no worries. Babies are just different, and us moms are looking at every little detail, and we worry if our kid is different than other kids. janet

My 5 month old baby has had a similar head shaking thing. I would describe it as a head tremor, an involuntary rapid vibrating or shaking of his head and shoulders, that was almost like a seizure. It has happened twice, both times while he was nursing, and lasted no more than a minute. I asked our pediatrician about it and he said he's heard about this a lot with babies this age. He attributed it to an immature nervous system. He explained that it's related to the spontaneous limb jerking that newborns do. He said that my son no longer has the involuntary arm and leg jerking, but now when his muscles twitch, they just keep twitching over and over as his nervous system hasn't learned to control the twitching yet. He said the key thing to observe was my son's mood after the episode. He's always fine, as if nothing happened, which my doctor indicates is a good sign. A bad sign would be if the baby seemed exhausted or stopped nursing or something else that indicated that what he went through was traumatic...apparently that is more symptomatic of an actual seizure. Don't know if I explained this well, but what the doctor said completely reassured me. anon

My son, now 2, had what was diagnosed as ''infant shuddering syndrome'', or something like that. I got the feeling that it was a non-technical term used by his neurologists (he ended up seeing two). Let me start by saying it was benign and he, by 12 months, he had outgrown it. We were been told by the neurologists that the children they have seen with this do outgrow it by 18 months with no side effects.

Here's the background. When he was 5 months old, we realized that he was making involuntary (we think) movements where he flapped his arms outward, sort of like a moro response. We ended up, over time, having him looked at by two pediatric neurologists. He also initially had an 2-3 hour EEG and a urine test to rule out a metabolic disorder. The EEG was normal and we were ready to call it a day, but we had a false positive on the metabolic test. He ultimately saw the second neurologist and had subsequest tests b/c of the urine test, but suffice it to say that after 7 months of testing, all came up normal. And he's not shown any signs of shuddering since he was a year old. That said, I do think it would be wise to get a neurologist's opinion. They see a lot of these things, and they can rule out anything serious. I hope this is reassuring! Relieved mom

My daughter shuddered often when she first tasted food she liked and when she peed. She did this from babyhood into lower elementary school. It did seem to be a pleasure response. I'd say your girl is feeling good for whatever reason -- nothing wrong with that! Diane

My 18 month old son has always shuddered his upper body whenever he needs to pee! Check her diaper soon after she does this and see if that's the cause. Susan

My son is now 27 months old, but sometime when he was between 1 year and 18 months, I noticed that he often shuddered for no apparent reason. I brought it up with our pediatrician, who said it was probably because he was peeing. I haven't noticed him shuddering in quite awhile- I don't know if it is because he stopped doing it or I stopped noticing because I am no longer worried. Anita

My six month old has been ''shuddering'' (what looks like a chill) for a couple months. Our pediatrician has assured us it is normal and there's nothing to worry about. Rachael

My daughter did exactly the same thing when she was that age. I was also concerned. I mentioned it to my mother who told me that I did that when I was a child, too. She told me that I used to do that after I peed. I checked and it appeared that my daughter also would shudder after she peed. Although I wouldn't classify it as pleasuring herself, it is possible that the two are related if peeing somehow stimulates her sexual organs. Just a possibility. Brenda

My baby did the exact same thing. I worried, asked, was told to just keep an eye on it. She's 3 now, and she stopped doing it sometime in the last year or so. heidi

I don't mean to trivialize your concern so forgive me if this response if off the mark, but the first thing I thought of when I read your post is that both of my kids make a slight shudder movement when they have to go pee. Could this be it? My older daughter has done this ever since she was in diapers and now, when she is almost five, I watch for the shudder and know when I see it that it's time to find a bathroom. anon

My daughter did exactly the same thing when she was about one. Eventually she stopped, but I don't remember when. Now she's three and super-fabulous in every way. I hope that reassures you that there is nothing wrong with your baby. anon.

I have no idea if this is true or not, but when my son was 5 months and shuddered at my mothers group (he still does now and then, not with much frequency), someone called it the ''pee shivers''. Other women seemed to have heard of this - apparently babies shiver when they've just peed? Who knows - but it could be a simple and harmless answer if it's true, and may be worth asking around about. anon

A friend's baby had similar symptoms. She went so far as to have a full neuro exam... and they finally figured out that she was constipated. Maybe some mineral oil or other treatment...? I'd be freaked out, too. I hope you get it sorted out soon. Jennie

My older daughter did this a lot when she was a baby. It turned out she would do it right before she would pee. I remember being quite concerned about her shuddering until I figured it out. She eventually stopped doing it, I don't even remember when. Sometime before she was 2. She's now almost six and is perfectly fine. Jennifer

I know that some people have a brief ''1-2 second'' shudder when the have to pee or are beginning to pee. Could she be urinating during these episodes? My son has done this a few times. anon

Could your baby be peeing? My brother and I both get ''Pee shivers'' when we pee sometimes. I've done it since I was a kid. When I had kids I started noticing my child would do this kind of shiver sometimes. Once I saw her doing it when she was crawling and immediately felt her was warm with fresh pee! Now that she is 4, I've seen her get pee shivers when she is going in the potty. And I occasionally see my new baby shiver too. Anon

9-month-old shaking his head from side to side

Nov 2004

Our nine month old son recently started to shake his head from side to side seemingly involuntarily - it resembles the head shaking (or tremors) of someone with Parkinson's disease. He does this about 10-15 times per day for a few seconds each time and it doesn't seem to be associated with a particular mood or activity. He seems otherwise happy and normal. This started a couple of days after receiving his vaccinations and flu shot. Does anyone have any experience with this? Should we worry?

We went through this with our daughter and know that it can be very scary. We were advised to get her an EEG, which we did. Nothing came up in the tests, which was a relief, so the doctors chalked it up to an ''immature nervous system.'' Whatever it was, they told us that we should keep an eye on it and go for another test if the tremors didn't stop by 12 or 18 months (I'm sorry -- it was a while ago and I can't remember which). They stopped, so everything was okay. I would advise that you see your pediatrician to find out what s/he thinks you should do. Lauren

Dear Mom or Dad,
Not to scare you, but please, talk to your pediatrican immediately, as these could be small seizure. Don't mess around with home remedies. Hopefully the pediatrician can rule out seizures right away, but if not you have to act on this immediately. Your son may have to see a specialist and have an EEG. Look up petit mal sesuires on the web. While he is shaking his head, check what his eyes are doing. If he is having seizures, they can cause brain damage if left untreated. Again, I don't want to scare you, but please see a doctor. It probably has nothing to do with the flu shot.

My neice has epilepsy, and had petit mal seizures (many a day) since she was tiny. Hopefully, your son has something else, but really push to find out. I would be happy to talk with you more. lisa

Well, you should ask your pediatrician. But fyi, our baby does that too. Not 15 times a day, but several times (less now that she's a toddler). As far as I could tell, it was linked to elimination: she always did it when she pooped and sometimes when she peed. a mom

don't worry! my son went through the exact same thing at the same age. it totally freaked me out, but we finally realized that he does it when he's tired and he shakes his head to try to keep awake. try getting him to sleep sooner for naps. and, it goes away in a month or two.

2-year-old shaking his head from side to side

Jan 2003

my 2 year old boy does this thing with his head when he sits down to be read to or when he sits down to watch a video. He sways his head from left to right a few times. Like he is settling in. Sometimes he seems to like to really shake his head, in a different way, more because it makes his world look funny. He is totally developmentally on target, though he is a early walker/late talker. My husband and I just sort of look at each other with concern when he does this. My boy seems fine, but this thing just sort of freaks me out. just wondering if anybody out there has seen these sorts of strange baby things.

My 20-month-old son does something that I think is very similar to the second behavior you describe (shaking his head to make his world look funny). He does it when he's sitting in his high chair eating, and he's getting close to done with his meal, so he's a little bored. He shakes his head side to side really emphatically, sometimes tilting his head back, and grinning from ear to hear -- then he looks at me to see how I'll respond. He started doing this at about 14 months old -- used to do it at every meal, often several times. Now he does it much less, but still seems to enjoy it. I don't think it's a big deal, just one of those funny things kids do. Karen

Hand tremors in 6-year-old child

Oct 2005

Hi. I was wondering if anyone had information or experience with hand tremors in children. My 6 year old has had them for years. His physician says that they are no big deal and that he will probably outgrow them. His preschool teacher thought that it happened when he tried to hard. Time has passed and it has not changed. Now it is diffucult for him to write without the drawing shakey lines and to color. He is embarassed by his writing and tries to avoid it. Obviously I am very concerned and want to seek further evaluation. I will be contacting his physician and requesting a refferal to a Neurologist, if for nothing else a baseline. He is a very happy athletic guy. But his fine motor skills are lacking. Advice appreciated. Worried and want to be proactive.

I have a hand tremor and it was first given a diagnostic title by my pediatrician when I was 12, but I am sure that I had it before that. Mine has the fancy title ''Benign Essential Tremor of the Hand'' which means it's pretty much a big fat nuisance and nothing more except when I need to do something really anxiety provoking, like taking a final, and then it can get out of hand (so to speak).

I have had medication, Inderal, which is a beta blocker, for my tremor, since I was 12, and I have gone through periods of taking it and periods of not, including a 12 year hiatus while I was pregnant and breastfeeding my two boys. In my experience, my tremor bothers other people more than it does me.

I would go ahead and have a neurologist check it out to make sure it's not something else, but I have met a number of other people who have the same condition I do. It's weird but unrelated to anything like Parkinson's, so nothing to really worry about. heather