Knee Bounces – are they safe?


Yesterday, a listserv for public librarians questioned  the safety of knee bounces.  My response was this:

When I was in Oakland, California presenting a training workshop, one of the participants spoke about this. She said that she worked with teen moms and many of them were surprised that she was doing knee bounces because they heard all about “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and were afraid to bounce their babies and cause permanent damage. The woman at my workshop said that these women were missing out on important physical contact with their babies because of their unfounded worries. She spoke with them about the importance of a steady beat, of positive physical contact, and of the delight that children feel when being bounced on their parents knees.

According the Website of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (

“…Parents usually call after a well-meaning relative or friend has cautioned them regarding such activities as using an infant swing, tossing a child in the air or bouncing a baby on the caregiver’s knee. These callers are reassured once a staff member from the National Center explains SBS/AHT and the violence necessary to cause it.

The National Center and its International Advisory Board issues this position statement on the relationship between shaken baby syndrome and normal affectionate handling or innocent play activities:

Shaken baby syndrome, which may result in severe brain trauma, is caused when a child is violently shaken such that the head is subjected to back and forth motion in one or more directions resulting in rapid repeated severe acceleration and deceleration of the head. The medical literature and ongoing research around the world have characterized shaken baby syndrome as well as other forms of accidental and non-accidental injury. Activities involving an infant or a child such as tossing in the air, bouncing on the knee, placing a child in an infant swing or jogging with them in a back pack, do not cause the brain, bone, and eye injuries characteristic of shaken baby syndrome. 
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome recognizes and supports positions offered by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) in reference to the mechanisms that cause shaken baby syndrome. The forces required are distinctly different than those sustained by children in the activities described above or in short falls.”

In addition to not being harmful, knee bounces provide a way for the child to have positive physical interaction with his or her caregiver. Knee bouncing is fun, joyous. Plus, children feel the steady beat with their entire body; they are learning through hearing the rhymes and feeling the bounce at the same time. The beat reminds them of their mother’s heartbeat when they were still in the womb and is generally comforting. The combination of feeling the beat, hearing the beat, and experiencing physical closeness in a fun way with a person they love helps to reinforce positive emotions.

When running a lapsit program for toddlers, it is often obvious that as soon as the knee bounces start, the kids who were all over the room exploring will return to their adult in order to enjoy the knee bouncing activities.

Here is one explanation of the benefits of knee bouncing from the “Introduction to the Kodály Philosophy website:

The interaction between adult and child in these games is irreplaceable. In this modern world however, life moves at a very fast pace and there is a temptation for carers to sit children in bouncy chairs and swings and surround them with colourful toys or the television. Of course the bright colours and fast movements will keep the child’s attention but there is no substitute for INTERACTION. Time spent in these early stages is an investment in the future.”

About Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen

A renowned national speaker and accomplished author, Dr. Betsy Diamant-Cohen is best known as the creator of Mother Goose on the Loose, an award-winning early literacy program. Her charismatic presentations always include an easily-understandable combination of research and practice. Recognized by the ASCLA Leadership and Professional Achievement Award for “revolutionizing the way librarians work with children from birth to age 3” and the 2018 Vattemare Award for Creativity in Libraries, Betsy’s passion is for helping children and the adults in their lives be the best they can be while sparking a love of reading.