Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Headbanging: We Aren’t Talking About Heavy Metal

Head banging in children. And I am not talking about Heavy Metal music.

You have probably witnessed your child bump into things while learning to walk, crawl, sit or stand. But what is going on when your child hits their head on purpose? While it may be painful to watch, head banging is fairly typical in babies and toddlers. Up to 20% of children go through a head banging stage. Toddlers usually outgrow this phase by the time they are three years old.

What it looks like

Head banging can look different for each child. Some children will bang their heads on their mattresses or pillow when they are getting ready to take a nap. Some will sit in an upright position and bang their head on the wall or the side of the crib.

Reasons a toddler might headbang

  • Self-comfort
  • Pain Relief
  • Frustration
  • Need for Attention
  • Developmental Problem

How to help

Ignore it – Head banging is a self-regulating action. If it becomes painful, your child will likely pull back to avoid the pain. If you run to their aid every time they purposefully hit their head, the behavior might increase in frequency. ONLY IGNORE THE BEHAVIOR IF THERE IS NO RISK OF HARM.

Reposition the crib – If your child is banging their head on the wall, look into other possible placements for the crib or bed. Sometimes just making that one small change is all that is needed to stop the behavior.

Prevent injury – Pad the area with secure thin blankets. Make sure you don’t put anything extra in the crib that could pose a suffocation risk.

Try empathy – Validate your child’s feelings. Say something like “I see that you are angry. You wanted the _____ but mom said no.” By empathizing, you acknowledge your child’s feelings but don’t have to give in.

Provide attention – I know, I know. I just said to ignore the behavior. You can ignore the behavior and still provide attention in another way. They are too young to understand what is going on, so do not scold or punish them for the behavior. Find a positive way to provide attention.

Don’t scold – Showing your disapproval can sometimes worsen the behavior.

Create a soothing bedtime routine – A warm bath, reading a book, or singing a lullaby can ease your child into the bedtime routine.

Consult your pediatrician – If you are worried that this is a bigger problem or your child does cause physical harm to themselves, please contact your pediatrician.

Remember, head banging is common in young children. Most of them will outgrow the phase by the time they are three. Keep calm. Don’t get angry over the behavior. Some kids really are doing this just for attention. Others are using it as a self-soothing mechanism. Either way, our job is to love them through it.

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