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Head Banging

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KEY POINTS

  • Head banging is when your child bangs his head against a solid object such as a wall or the side of a crib. It is usually a way for your child to comfort himself.
  • It is very unlikely that children under the age of 3 will seriously injure themselves with this habit. As long as your child is safe, it is usually best to ignore night-time head banging. Most children will outgrow the habit by school age.

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What is head banging?

Head banging is when your child bangs his head against a solid object such as a wall or the side of a crib. It is most common at naptime, bedtime, or when your child wakes up at night. Head banging usually lasts 15 minutes or less, but may go on for over an hour.

What is the cause?

Head banging is usually a way for your child to comfort himself. As many as 2 in 10 healthy children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years of age will bang their head at some time. Boys are more likely to bang their head than girls. Children are more likely to bang their heads when they:

  • Need comfort, such as when they are trying to fall asleep
  • Have pain, such as when they are teething or have a painful ear infection
  • Are frustrated or angry, as part of a temper tantrum
  • Want attention from parents or other adults
  • Have cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, autism, blindness, or Down syndrome

What can I do to help my child?

Most children will outgrow the habit by school age. A few things you can do to help include:

  • Since the rhythmic movement is comforting, it may help to find other rhythmic activities for your child, such as dancing, marching, clapping to music, beating on toy drums, riding a rocking horse, or playing on a seesaw or a swing. Giving your child a stuffed animal may help.
  • Stay calm and don't make a big deal about head banging, especially if it is part of a temper tantrum. As long as your child is safe, it is usually best to ignore it.
  • Give your child lots of love and attention when he is not banging his head.
  • Do not punish your child or scold him. This can make head banging worse.

How can I help prevent head injury?

It is very unlikely that children under the age of 3 will seriously injure themselves with this habit. While it looks and sounds bad, toddlers cannot usually bang hard enough to fracture the skull or cause brain damage.

To help protect your child:

  • Put a thick rug or rubber pad on the floor or have your child wear a protective helmet. Extra pillows or bumpers in the crib usually don’t work and can be dangerous. Adding soft, fluffy items to the crib can make it easier for a baby to suffocate.
  • Make sure the crib or bed is secure. Moving the bed or crib away from the wall may reduce the noise.
  • Have a calm, soothing bedtime routine. Give your child a warm bath, rock him, read him a story, rub his back, or sing a song. You can also try playing soft music in his room during the night.

Talk with your child's healthcare provider if you are worried about your child or your child:

  • Disrupts the entire house with his behavior
  • Hurts himself or you think he will hurt himself
  • Has other symptoms of developmental problems, such as frequently not looking at you or is slow to respond
  • Is unable to sleep
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-10-06
Last reviewed: 2015-10-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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