Why Do Children Bang Their Head Repeatedly? How To Tackle Or Prevent It?

Shikha Batra
1 to 3 years

Created by Shikha Batra
Updated on Apr 08, 2020

Why Do Children Bang Their Head Repeatedly How To Tackle Or Prevent It
Reviewed by Expert panel

Meena is upset as her 13 months old son has recently developed the habit of banging his head against a wall. She is at her wits' end trying to figure out how to control her son's this behaviour.

She is concerned and wonders if this is normal behaviour.

Headbanging is a rhythmic movement of the head against a solid object such as a wall or the sides of a crib, mattresses, pillows or even the floor. These rhythmic movements or motor activities are a normal part of the development of healthy infants or young children. However, if this behaviour continues beyond the early age they can be considered abnormal. Though head banging can be upsetting and worrisome for parents to witness, in most cases the child does this behaviour as he/she finds it soothing, self-stimulating, a way to release frustration or it may actually help him/her to fall asleep.

When does headbanging start?

Headbanging usually begins when babies are around 6 months of age and peaks between 18 to 24 months of age. The episode can last for 15 minutes or more. During the episode, the child may hit their head against a wall or any surface every one to two seconds.

Why do children engage in headbanging?

There could be many reasons for children to bang their head such as:

  • It is believed the repetitive movements soothes and calms babies and help them in dozing off. Most toddlers indulge in this behaviour to relax.

  • It also helps the child to distract himself from discomfort in mouth or ear when in pain say due to teething or an ear infection.

  • Most of the toddlers engage in headbanging as they do not know how to express themselves adequately through words.

  • It helps them deal with their frustration by giving a  vent to their emotions during temper tantrums.

  • The child may engage in headbanging to catch the attention of adults around. The more reaction children get from parents or other adults, the more likely they are to continue this habit.

  • It is considered just one of many behavioural red flags and can also be associated with autism and other developmental disorders. 

Is headbanging normal behaviour?

Headbanging is considered normal up till three years of age and generally ends spontaneously by the time a child is four years old. However, it needs evaluation if it persists longer to ensure it is a normal habit. Boys are more likely to engage in this behaviour than girls.

How to prevent hand banging in children?

Headbanging is common and usually nothing to worry about, but it can be really upsetting for parents to see their child engaging in such behaviours. The parents do not want their worst fears to come true by seeing their child getting hurt, or perhaps from causing brain damage during such an episode.  They try as much as possible to protect their child from any injury. They stop the child from headbanging by giving in to his/her demands and paying attention to him/her which in turn reinforces the child's this behaviour. The child begins to enjoy the fuss parents make over the banging of the head and repeats it often. The more reaction child gets from parents or other adults, the more likely they are to continue this habit. The parents ideally should not make a big deal about it and consider it a normal part of growing up if there are no other signs such as an associated speech problem.

How can parents help the child outgrow headbanging?

Most children will outgrow the habit on their own. Parents can, however, help speed up this process by using the two "I's" of discipline namely Ignore or isolate. Pretending they have not noticed and by not giving in to their child's demands they can speed up the process. Best would be to ignore the child's temper tantrums and if this can't be done simply putting the child in another room and walking out without giving him the attention he/she wants would serve the purpose. Distracting the child or engaging him/her in a different activity would also decrease the time child spends in this habitual activity. Repeatedly following the same discipline technique would make the child outgrow it quickly. 

Headbanging and body rocking behaviours should be considered abnormal if these movements hinder sleep or result in injury. If the child is otherwise healthy, it is likely not something a parent should worry about. Fortunately, children usually outgrow this behaviour by the time they are age four without any need for intervention. However, if a parent is worried about their child's headbanging and getting injured during such episodes, they should discuss the same with their paediatrician.

Please share with us, how you have been dealing with headbanging behaviour of your child. Do pour in your valuable feedback in the comments section.

This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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