Head banging in children

Head banging is a behavior characterized by a toddler’s repeated banging his or her head, against a solid surface or object such as a wall or the side of a crib. It is estimated that one-fifth of all healthy children display this behavior at least once during their infancy. Moreover, this disturbing behavior is more common in boys than in girls. Head banging usually starts around the age of nine months and ceases by the time the child is two years old. 

The exact causes are not known though the reason may include:

  • Comfort – Odd as it may sound, some experts believe that head banging, along with other rhythmic movements such as body rocking and head rolling, may be a source of pleasure or comfort to a toddler. Though parents may be concerned about the pain caused by the behavior, it may be producing a soothing effect for the one doing it.
  • Pain relief – Head banging may also help to relieve pain in another part of the body, such as that caused by an ear infection, by serving to distract the child.
  • Attention – Some children may simply bang their heads to draw attention or out of anger, a strategy that usually succeeds, as worried parents show more concern.
  • Disorders – In addition, head banging is often associated with autism and other disorders. However, head banging itself does not indicate a serious disorder.

Contrary to what most people think, the objective is rarely self-injury, and usually this habit does not lead to fractures or bruises. Most children with this symptom have been seen growing up as normal, well-adjusted adults.

  • Positive reinforcement is necessary to reassure toddlers when they are not banging their head. During bouts of head banging, parents need to avoid making a fuss or encouraging this behavior further.
  • If the child displays injury, fever, or any other illness, consult your family physician immediately.

One thought on “Head banging in children

  • April 17, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I did something similar to this when I was a young child, on my pillow every night, as a way to release energy and exhaust myself into a deep deep sleep. It was very comforting but it really concerned my mom. It only lasted about a year or so.

    But my son, when he was a toddler, did this when he was mad. He’d bang his head on the floor. That REALLY worried me! Thankfully it only happened a few times and stopped after he realized the pain was worse than his frustration.

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