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Why Kids Bang Their Heads

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I have had several questions both online and on–air from parents who “are concerned because their child will bang their foreheads when they get upset”.  One listener wanted to know if she needed to take her child “to a specialist”.  Thankfully, she does not need to find the “headbanging specialist” whoever that may be, as head banging among babies and toddlers is really quite common.  Up to 20% of babies and toddlers may bang their heads on purpose, and not surprising to me, boys are 3 times more likely to bang their heads than girls!

Head banging is a habit, and it typically “rears its ugly head” between the ages of 18 – 24 months.  Head banging typically resolves by the time a child reaches the age of 3, but by that time many parents are ready to bang their own heads. For toddlers head banging may actually be a self comforting mechanism for children to help themselves relax and fall asleep. Many parents will comment that the head banging often occurs in the crib rail or wall beside the crib.

Head banging is often a common sign of frustration during the toddler years.  During a tantrum a child may bang their head on the floor as a way of showing strong emotion, when they are not yet verbal enough to use words to express feelings.

The best way to put an end to head banging is by ignoring your child’s behavior. Toddler’s may get a few bruises on their foreheads, but they know exactly how hard they can hit their head without causing serious injury. You may not realize it, but toddler’s are really quite bright, and they are seeking attention through head banging (albeit negative behavior to get attention), so running to them each time just reinforces their behavior. The sooner they realize that you are not going to intervene or respond to their head banging the more quickly the behavior will stop.

Just beware, that by the time your child is a teen, they usually don’t resort to head banging to vent their frustration, but use a barrage of words to convey their unhappiness with you!  Something to look forward to.

That’s your daily dose.  We’ll chat again tomorrow!

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