Head banging: How to cope and keep your cool.

Photo credit: Paul Hanaoka

Seeing your little one bang their head intentionally isn’t easy. It also fills parents with guilt that perhaps it’s their fault or they’re doing things wrong. 

Let me reassure you that this behaviour is more common than you think and they will grow out of it. It’s not your fault at all!

So many parents get in touch with me in real distress about their toddler head banging due to fear of injury. However, in most cases, little ones won’t hurt themselves at all while doing it. 

– Fi Star-Stone

Why does my little one bang their head?

  • Self soothing – yes as crazy as that sounds, some toddlers find head banging together with rocking, a soothing way to settle themselves to sleep.  As worrying as this looks, as long as your toddler is happy and healthy there’s really no need to worry. They won’t be doing it hard enough to hurt or cause any damage. 
  • Frustration – communication is one of the biggest causes of toddler tantrums or attention-seeking behaviours, and it’s quite understandable! When your little one can’t communicate what they want to do, or becomes frustrated with an activity they can’t complete, head banging is away of expressing that frustration. 
  • Attention seeking – sometimes head banging is simply a form of gaining attention. The fear from the parent gains a quick response and therefor triggers continuation of head banging whenever attention is wanted. 
  • Pain relief – Teething, ear-ache or illness can often trigger head banging behaviours. If this behaviour started recently and you’re worried they are poorly, get them checked out with your GP.
  • Underlying development issues – if head-banging is repetitive along with other forms of self hurting, it could be a sign of other issues. This behavior is often associated with autism, but try not to worry, as head banging alone is rarely a cause for concern.

What should I do to stop head-banging?

As with all things parenting, it’s about making an informed choice, so do what works for you and your little one, with these tips in mind. 

Avoid giving the behaviour attention: As hard as it is, avoid scolding or telling them to stop banging their head. When head-banging provokes no reaction, they’ll find it even less enticing

Giving any attention, especially negative, is considered a ‘win’ by little ones and they continue to head bang when they know it works. 

Try not to worry! As easy as this sounds – worrying won’t help the behaviour. If your toddler knows it upsets you or gets a reaction, they’ll continue. 

Instead, turn away when they start and try to make the areas (they most use to head bang) safe with cushions or foam (pool noodles secured to corners and cot rails are ideal!) Remember, this kind of behaviour is self-regulating so they’ll always stop when it begins to hurt. 

Try empathising: When the behaviour starts try empathising with your little one rather thwn getting frudtrated. Dependent on age they may not understand exactly what you are saying, but the tone of voice and soothing reassurance can often help divert their attention from banging their head. 

Say things like “I know you wanted to stay at the park longer and it makes you feel sad to go home, but we need to go home to have lunch now!” 

As a parent myself – I know this sounds a bit ridiculous and eye-rolly, and it may not stop the behaviour at first, but starting this kind of reasoning early on really does help avoid conflict as the years go by. 

Talk to your health visitor: If head banging escalates or continues despite your best efforts to cope and calm, and you are really worried, talk to your health visitor or parenting professional.  

Remember they’ll grow out of this. Head banging is a common behavior in little ones that can start as early as 6 months old, but will generally disappear as your child matures.