Ask Dr. Marla: Head Banging in Children

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on July 19, 2010

Question:

My 11-month-old daughter recently started to hit herself on her head with her open hand. At first it seemed to happen more when she was mad, then turned into whenever I told her ‘no’ and now it seems she does it all the time and sometimes for no reason. Should I be concerned?

Answer:

Head banging, so to speak, is actually quite common. Depending on the source one reads, as many as one in five children will do this and it usually disappears by age three. Often what happens is that children hit their head when they are frustrated. You note that it started when she was mad or got a no, which also made her angry! At 11 months, language development is just about to happen, but until then, head banging becomes an effective way to communicate. This behaviour clearly elicited a reaction from you – either positive or negative – and now the child does it for what appears to be no apparent reason at all.

What you should do
  • Verify there are no other developmental concerns or delays. Often self comfort can take the form of head banging or rocking. While it is true that we can see this behaviour in developmentally delayed kids, we often see this in entirely healthy children.

These actions are thought to be self soothing and a way of relieving stress.
  • For the most part, try to ignore the behaviour and redirect your child. Offering a soft comfort toy to hold can help. With time and language development, your child is likely to find a different way to communicate her frustrations.

See your doctor if the head banging happens for very long periods of time or your child is unaware of their surroundings.

Published in August 2010


By Dr. Marla Shapiro| July 19, 2010

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