So, Donut is going through a bit of a phase at the moment, where whenever he doesn’t get his own way, he gets on to all fours, and *slams* his head in to the floor. Let me explain a little more…
Donut is 21 and a half months old. He’ll be 2 in June.
His speech is only just starting to come in, and although we can understand a few of the words, he’s still doing a lot of baby babble. He’s frustrated because he can’t tell us what he wants or needs yet, and although we do get our “guesses” right most of the time, the other times, he gets wound up.
In order for us to give you a bit of a breakdown as to what usually goes on, allow me to give you a few examples:
- He asks for a sweet, biscuit or chocolate (he can say sweetie, biccie and choccy), but it’s dinner time, and he needs to eat that first. We say “no – you need to have your dinner first…” Donut then gets on to his hands and knees, and headbutts the floor. Sometimes just the once, sometimes up to 4 or 5 times.
- He’s in his (wooden) highchair, having a bit of time out / relaxing a little after dinner, and we give him a book / toy. He either throws the toy, or starts ripping the book. After we’ve told him several times not to do it, he starts “reverse” headbutting the backrest of the highchair.
- We’re in the car, and he drops a toy on the floor. We’re unable to turn around to pick it up for him, so he starts screaming (oh, it sounds like he’s screaming murder!!), and then rocking – almost violently, backwards and forwards in his car seat, banging his head all over the place!
Welcome to a day in the life of Donut…
Let’s be honest, as a parent, you don’t want your little one injured. It upsets you (as well as them) when they get hurt, and it makes you feel absolutely awful – and sometimes completely helpless, when they start hurting themselves deliberately!
Donut has been doing this headbanging thing for about 3 or 4 months now, and last night I’d had enough. He was very nicely sitting on my knee, eating a sweetie (Parma Violet), and he asked for another – “more”. I said he can have another one, as soon as he has finished the one that he has in his mouth. He started getting frustrated, and lashed out at me. He screamed, and punched me. I said, “I’m not having that – that was naughty. Get off my knee.” I gently pushed him off my knee, and the next thing you know, he’s on all fours, and “BANG”. He’s headbutted the floor. He was then the proud owner of a massive red mark across his forehead.
Thankfully, we have a Witch Hazel stick, that we bought from a pharmacy. It’s great for kids, because it means that we don’t have to try to hold a piece of kitchen roll, soaked with the usual liquid Witch Hazel, over the “bump”. We got that on him straight away, and this morning, there’s no mark at all.
So, I did what every mum does, just before they get to the wits end of getting medical advice for their kids, and I took to social media. I made a post on Mummy Social, asking for advice, and primarily, to see if anyone else has had the same problems.
I received several replies, and I am pleased to say that I am not alone. A lot of the comments were from mummies who have similarly aged children, who are either going through, or have been through a “head banging” stage. One of the mummies there gave a link to a page on the Baby Centre website, simply entitled, “Head banging (12 to 24 mo.)“. Here’s what I’ve found on that website:
Why does my toddler purposely bang his head?
Head banging is surprisingly common. Up to 20 percent of babies and toddlers bang their head on purpose, although boys are three times more likely to do it than girls. Head banging often starts in the second half of the first year and peaks between 18 and 24 months of age. Your child’s head banging habit may last for several months, or even years, though most children outgrow it by age 3.
Possible reasons your toddler may bang his head:
- Self-comfort. As strange as it may sound, most toddlers who indulge in this behaviour do it to relax. They bang their head rhythmically as they’re falling asleep, when they wake up in the middle of the night, or even while they’re sleeping. Some rock on all fours as well. Developmental experts believe that the rhythmic motion, like rocking in a chair, may help your toddler soothe himself.
- Pain relief. Your toddler may also bang his head if he’s in pain — from teething or an ear infection, for example. Head banging seems to help kids feel better, perhaps by distracting them from the discomfort in their mouth or ear. This is rather convenient, considering Donut was diagnosed with an ear infection just a couple of weeks ago, but his head banging started a couple of months ago…
- Frustration. If your toddler bangs his head during temper tantrums, he’s probably trying to vent some strong emotions. He hasn’t yet learned to express his feelings adequately through words, so he’s using physical actions. And again, he may be comforting himself during this very stressful event. This is my initial thought for why Donut bangs his head.
- A need for attention. Ongoing head banging may also be a way for your toddler to get attention. Understandably, you may tend to become solicitous when you see your child doing something that appears self-destructive. And since he likes it when you fuss over his behaviour, he may continue the head banging in order to get the attention he wants.
- A developmental problem. Head banging can be associated with autism and other developmental disorders — but in most of these cases, it’s just one of many behavioural red flags. Rarely does head banging alone signal a serious problem.
What can I do about it?
Give your toddler your attention — but not when he’s banging.
Make sure your child gets plenty of positive attention from you when he’s not banging his head. If he still bangs his head to get your attention, though, try not to make a big deal about it, or you may reinforce the behaviour. Even if you can’t completely disregard the behaviour, don’t scold or punish him for it. He’s too young to understand the situation, and your disapproval may only make matters worse. Easier said than done, if you ask me.
Protect your child from injury.
Check all the screws and bolts on your toddler’s crib once a month or more to make sure the rocking isn’t loosening anything. You can also put rubber casters on the crib legs and hang a soft fabric or quilt between the crib and the wall to reduce noise and to minimise wear and tear on the walls and floor.
Don’t put pillows or blankets in his crib to soften his surroundings, because these are a suffocation hazard. If you want to use bumpers on your toddler’s crib to soften his blows, make sure that they’re thin, firm (not puffy), and securely tied to the crib railings, so your toddler can’t get his head between the bumper and the railing. This isn’t appropriate to us, as Donut has been in his own (toddler) bed for almost 10 months…
Try not to worry.
Your toddler may get a bruise or two, but don’t worry — head banging is usually a “self-regulating” behaviour. This means your child is unlikely to hit his head hard enough to seriously injure himself. He knows his threshold for pain and will pull back on the throttle a bit if the banging hurts. Again, easier said than done.
Help foster your child’s love of rhythm in other ways.
Your child clearly likes a good steady beat, so help him find other outlets for his love of rhythm. Experts often recommend dancing, marching, and drumming or clapping to music together. You might also try putting a metronome in your child’s room to give him the comfort of a steady rhythm. Make sure he gets lots of physical exercise during the day, too, to help him burn off some of the nervous energy that may feed his head banging. We’ve noticed that if we put some loud music on, Donut tends to stop what he is doing, and dances to it instead…
Start a soothing bedtime routine.
If your child is banging his head as a way of “coming down” from his busy day, try setting up a relaxing routine. A warm bath, a calm rock on your lap, and a quiet story or song may help. You may want to spend a few minutes before bed rubbing his back or stroking his forehead. Soft music in his bedroom can be soothing, too.
Consult a doctor if your child’s behaviour becomes worrisome.
If your child bangs his head a lot during the day or continues to bang his head even though he’s hurting himself, you may have cause for concern. Though it’s uncommon, head banging can be associated with autism and other developmental disorders, which sometimes become apparent during the toddler and preschool years.
Autistic children generally don’t relate well to people. They often aren’t interested in physical contact with their parents and seem to look through people rather than at them. If you notice that your child is losing physical abilities, language, or other skills he’s acquired; if he’s becoming increasingly withdrawn; or if he’s consistently delayed in achieving common developmental milestones, that is the time to seek medical advise.
So, I think all in all, this is a common phase that Donut is going through, so it’s just a matter of riding it out.