My Toddler Bangs His Head When He Gets Upset

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I think all of my children have gone through the stage of banging their heads when they get upset, angry, or frustrated.  I have always wondered why they would want to inflict pain on themselves like that.

My 1 yr old son has been banging his head A LOT lately and it is really getting to me.  He will bang his head on the floor (carpet or tile – it doesn’t matter).  He bangs his head on furniture and on walls.  He even bangs his head on ME.  Sometimes he will bang it softly and it doesn’t necessarily hurt him, but sometimes he will bang his head really hard until he makes himself cry.   I have even seen marks on his forehead from the banging.

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I did some research about toddlers banging their heads and why they do it and it pretty much confirmed what I thought.

According to BabyCenter.com, they list out several possibilities:

• Self-comfort. This one seems a little weird to me.  I have heard of thumb sucking, rocking, and hair pulling for self comfort, but not head banging.  They say that toddlers sometimes bang their heads to relax. They bang their heads rhythmically as they’re falling asleep, when they wake up in the middle of the night, or even while they’re sleeping. Developmental experts believe that the rhythmic motion, like rocking in a chair, may help toddlers sooth themselves.

• Pain relief. This one makes sense to me.  I have felt like banging my own head when I am in pain with a migraine or a toothache.  Your toddler may also bang their head if they are in pain — from teething or an ear infection, for example. Head banging seems to help kids feel better, perhaps by distracting them from their discomfort.

• Frustration. This is the one that I see in my 1 yr old.  They say, if your toddler bangs their head during temper tantrums, that they probably are trying to vent some strong emotions. They haven’t yet learned to express their feelings adequately through words, so they are using physical actions. They can also be comforting themselves from being frustrated.

• A need for attention. I do see this sometimes in my toddler.  Ongoing head banging can be a way for your toddler to get attention.  Understandably, as parents, we can get upset seeing our child banging their head.  And since he likes it when you fuss over his behavior, he may continue the head banging in order to get the attention he wants.

• A developmental problem. Head banging can be associated with developmental disorders such as autism. It can be one of many behavioral red flags. Rarely does head banging alone signal a serious problem.

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I have to say I feel much better reading this list of possible reasons my toddler would be banging his head.  I know that this phase will not last.  Once he is able to express himself better through words, I think that the head banging will decrease and eventually stop altogether.  Right now, my 1 yr old son doesn’t talk, so he is just using the physical action of banging his head to get the emotion and frustration out.

I think it is probably best to not pay too much attention too it, because it can become a need for attention.  I have seen the head banging increase since I started saying to my son “No, don’t bang your head..”.  I am going to work on ignoring it just like I ignore my older children’s pouting.

So, if you are struggling with having a child who bangs their head for self comfort, pain relief, frustration, or the need for attention – don’t fear – this too shall pass.  In a few years you will look back and laugh about it.  And if your child is showing signs of developmental issues, then share your concerns with your pediatrician and they will point you in the right direction for further help.

How about you?  Have you ever dealt with a child who bangs their head?  What did you do?

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Comments

  1. says

    You are so right to ignore it as much as possible. My oldest used to throw herself on the ground, throwinghuge screaming, kicking tantrums. It got so bad that I went to the pediatrician w/her and told dr. that either she or I needed to see a psychologist. He laughed, and told me that she was acting out to get my full, undivided attention – even if it got her in trouble (sent to her room, etc.)
    He told me to act like she’s not in the room when she acted out. To walk away and pretend she’s not there – do not send her to her room or tell her to stop or ask what is the matter. Any acknowledgement would reinforce the tantum. He said it would take two weeks of my not giving in even one time before she stopped.
    He was right – but it was two hard weeks of hell, let me tell you. I’d walk away and she’d wrap herself around my leg, kicking and screaming, and I’d have to pretend she wasn’t there at all.
    The tantrums became fewer and further between and by the time two weeks went by, she had stopped throwing them completely. Even one year old children know what to do to get their way or their parent’s attention, even if it’s not the best way.
    .-= PattiMcKenna´s last blog ..I Lost My Sexy =-.

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  2. says

    Twitter: pediatricsafety
    What a great post!! Thanks so much for sharing :)
    .-= Stefanie´s last blog ..Sippy Straw Cleaner =-.

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    admin Reply:

    Thanks so much! Yeah, it is really interesting how children do these weird things and then you find that there are lots of parents out there who have children doing the same exact thing. I hope that my boy grows out of this very soon.

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  3. Angela Bailey says

    Twitter: theladya
    My son began banging his head from the time he could lift it, however, he only did it to put himself to sleep and while sleeping. He never banged his head for attention or when he was upset or frustrated. I spoke to his doctor about it and he said it was a phase and that by the time he was about 3 he would no longer do it. Well my son is 10 years old and still does this throughout the night. He has never hurt himself as he usually does it off his mattress or pillow but he occasionally will do it off his hands. To get him to stop all I have to do is say his name very lightly and he will stop, which I think is weird, but if he doesn’t stop I pity his poor wife when he gets married, lol.

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  4. says

    Hi Dawn!
    I know how you feel. Diagnosing these things online has it’s advantages and disadvantages… but for the most part it’s great for instant gratification and relief. Baby C shakes his head back and forth sometimes and it’s always a little weird but I think he’s just testing out his ability to do it… or any of the above, I suppose.. I like the comfort one or teething, maybe. But, I wouldn’t go as far as autism. But, I do remember with T because he was our first; being curious about weird movements or something out of the ordinary! I think you gave yourself the best advice. ;)
    .-= Leslie @La Mama Naturale´s last blog ..{Happy WW!} Feeding “Billy” =-.

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  5. says

    I have been dealing with this for over a yr. HE still bangs his head and thankfully it hasn’t been as much as before I think he’s realizing that it does hurt. But now he’s given into the nestea plunge and I think that will be a problem at least he does it from a sitting position.
    .-= Night Owl Mama´s last blog ..Custom Cheerleading T-Shirts by Just Jen =-.

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  6. says

    My almost two year old bangs/buries his head onto the floor or couch and he’ll scream. When his bed was in his room, he’d run in his room, slam his door and bury his face in his blanket and scream. It’s like he’s putting himself in a timeout to recoup. It’s hilarious. We pay him no mind, we call him the drama king.
    .-= Sheena´s last blog ..Today was a veg day. =-.

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  7. Mara Bowman says

    My one year old will bang his head on the kitchen floor when he gets mad. If we remove him from doing something (eating dog food), he will sit down on the floor and slowly lower his head to the floor and bang it 2 or 3 times. It is not hurting him, he is not doing it very hard. I am still concerned, but it is good to hear it is “normal behavior”.

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    admin Reply:

    Oh yes, it is totally normal so there is no need to worry. But you are definitely like me in the fact that you do your research when your child does something that is questionable. I was relieved to read all the resources saying that they eventually do grow out of it. My son is 18 months old now and still does this, but it is nowhere near how much he was doing it at 12 months old.

    I wish you all the best sweety. Gotta love being a mom right? :)

    DAWN

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    kelsey Reply:

    thats exactly what my boy does

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  8. Lissa says

    It eased my mind somewhat to read this and know that I’m not personally doing anything wrong as a mother, because that was my greatest concern. I’m still slightly worried however. My daughter turned two as of last month and still does the head banging. If her cousin snatches a toy from her, she flips out and bangs her head on whatever is available (microwave, floor, wall, couch, my leg…). It’s like this with everything that upsets her. The reason I’m still so concerned about it is because we’re in a major transition (we lost our house and are now -after much couch surfing- staying with a friend until we make our final move to Maryland) and I feel like her negative behaviors such as head banging have increased. Any thoughts on how things will be once we finally settle down for good and she has time to adjust…?

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    Painter Mommy Reply:

    More often than not, a child who bangs their head does grow out of it. Right now they are just expressing their frustration where they may not be able to do it in words. I thought my son would never stop, but as he is getting older, he is gradually not doing it as much anymore.

    The best thing to do is not pay much attention to it. You don’t want your child to think they can get extra attention from the act of banging their head. So ignore it as much as you can. And once your child gets older and is able to express themselves better through words, you will see a change for the better.

    I wish you all the best!

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    Debbie Reply:

    I also feel more relieved, my grandson that I am raising will bang his head when he gets mad, I thought the very first time I saw it, oh my goodness what is wrong with you? I did take him to the doctor and he did have an ear infection, but has been on medication for ear and still does it. I will do what I have read and totally ignore it, I really thought there was something wrong with him, I also have to be consistant with him, he will be turning 2, I hope this phase certainly disappears soon, hate to see him like that, kids now a days really know how to keep us on our toes.

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    Painter Mommy Reply:

    My son does not bang his head anywhere near as much as he used to. It was really hard ignoring it because he would often hurt himself. I think if you recognize the reasoning behind the head banging, like I did, it really does help. And yes, kids DO know how to keep us on our toes. :)

    DAWN

  9. Denise says

    I have a 21 month old daughter. The past two months she has gone from a wonderful baby to the devil. Oh my god, she screams, bangs her head and throws things if I leave the room, If she does not see me,if shes frustrated, if she wants out of the stroller while in a store,if her big sister goes in her room and shuts the door etc. I have learned the past week to just ignore her but it seems its just getting worse. My family and friends don’t want to visit with us or go out with us because of my daughters behavior. I’m pulling my hair out!!!! Please help!!

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  10. anne crawley says

    Right now I have a student who bangs his head it left a really big bruise
    On his forehead and he started crying at first I was going to say something to him
    But then I said ok class let work on our flash cards when he saw I wasn’t going to respond he stopped to go get in his chair and hasn’t done it since

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  11. says

    My son is a head banger, he gets upset or frustraited he will bang whatever is in front of him, when his brother takes a toy away or bugs him he will crawl over to him really fast while lowering his head and ram into him knocking him off his feet. (its funny at first but it does worry me though) He is like a little ram, he wakes up and I am still asleep he will get upset and bang his head against his crib hard several times until he starts crying and stops. My husband jokes about getting him a helmet. After reading this article I feel so much better, for a while there I was worried, since with my first born he never did that.

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    Painter Mommy Reply:

    I am so glad that my post helped you. I totally understand. Sometimes you feel like your kids are not normal and that noone else faces the things you face until you Google it and see that it is actually pretty common. Good luck!

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  12. Jacks mom says

    Wow can’t believe how many mums are going through the same thing I am. My 2 year old has banged his head from approx 6 months and he doesn’t care what he hits he constantly has big bruises or red marks on his forehead and I wonder if he’ll cause himself brain damage. My boy has slammed concrete, bricks, metal chairs, and smashed three panels on my glass doors on 3 separate occasions, he’s nearly knocked me out head butting my face and he can do it front ways or backwards. My son is otherwise a smiley happy cheeky baby and everyone is drawn to him because he is alot of fun, but when he gets into this head bashing mindset it’s like a totally different kid. Recently he was doing it less and less to the point where he’d almost stopped but then we had a family crisis and things got a bit crazy and he started doing it worst than before, so thanks to all the blogs I realize this is just what he does when he can’t verbalise his wants and needs, so I’ve boarded up the glass windows he can head butt and made my house as head banging friendly as I can and I’m doing more things with him and letting go of being so regimented with my household chores and am now spending more time with my son.

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