As babies develop into toddlers they begin displaying new behaviors, some good and some not so good. Most parents are prepared (though not looking forward) to their child throwing tantrums, screaming, or whining. However, parents might not expect their toddler to bang their head against a wall.
Why is my child doing this? What does it mean? How can I help them?
This behavior is not uncommon, in fact, 1 out of 5 children bang their head. According to the Cleveland Clinic, children will start banging their head around 6-9 months and it could last till the child is 2 or 3 years old. In a small number of children it will last until they are 5 years old
Banging actually has a calming effect for the child. The repetitive motion can be pleasurable for the child, or if it happens at night, a way to release tension and prepare for sleep. Children who are over-stimulated find the movement soothing.
While it is hard to watch, head banging will not seriously injure themselves. A child is not able to produce enough force to cause serious problems. A child’s head grows so they can sustain these types of hits. They will pull back if it begins to hurt.
It usually occurs at bedtime or when a child is upset (like during a tantrum). The banging can last for minutes or even hours.
To Self-soothe – The child may bang their head when they are trying to go to sleep. It is a self-soothing technique, like thumb sucking. They are still full of energy and need a way to wind down.
Stress – They may be feeling stressed, like over a recent move or a new sibling.
Transition in Developmental Stages – Beginning to walk, language spurts or potty training can contribute to a child banging their head.
Pain Relief – Some children bang their head to relieve pain they are feeling elsewhere, for instance, with ear infections or teething.
What to Do:
The best thing to do is ignore the behavior. Do not try to stop it. It is important not to interact with the child while they are doing it (It can turn into an attention seeking behavior).
If it happens at night, make sure the bed or crib is securely fastened and all bolts are tightened regularly. Move the bed away from the wall and put up bedrails, so they do not fall out of bed. There is no need to add extra pillows or bumpers.
Use a bedtime routine to help them relax. Try a warm bath, gentle rocking, a backrub, a quiet story and/or songs before saying goodnight. Make sure their bedtime or naptime is not too early or too late. They should be drowsy.
If it happens during the day, make sure to give your child plenty of attention. If they are old enough, ask them how they feel or if something is wrong. Make sure to do this when they are not displaying the behavior and try not to make a big deal about it.
Give them plenty of opportunity to exercise during the day to help release energy or try playing, clapping or dancing to music.
A child banging their head does not mean they have Autism. If they have Autism they will display other signs such as: not relating to other people, becoming withdrawn, or lack of communication.
Consult with your doctor if:
-Injury is associated with the banging
-You fear potential harm
-There are delays in achieving developmental milestones
-You worry your child may have seizures
-The banging continues after the age of 3
Remember, that while the head banging seems alarming, it is fairly typical. Children that bang their head will not cause permanent damage and it is not a comment on parenting skills. Overall, this is one of those child behaviors that make you scratch your head (read about other behaviours that you may not be sure about), but remember that this is not as troublesome as it seems….this too shall pass.