Does your 2-year-old look like he’s preparing for a rock concert? Head-butting the wall, his sibling or you?
Well there’s no need to be alarmed. About 20 percent of children do this, according to the American Pediatric Association. Boys are more likely to engage in the behavior.
Typically manifesting between 18 months and 2 years old, the behavior is a way for toddlers to send a message to the parent. It should subside once they start talking at around 3 or 4.
To prevent this behavior, the first step is to notice when it happens. Try to pay attention to when the child does this, what they’re trying to get out of it.
If it’s an attention-seeking act where, for example, you’re on the phone and not playing with your child, be proactive. Set up toys or games for while you’re busy to distract your kid from your lack of attention.
“When a parent comes to me with a child exhibiting this sort of behavior, the first thing we do is go over the history of the event,” says Dr. Johnson-Hooper. “We go over what happened before, during and after the behavior.”
The next step is to make sure they’re going to be safe.
“It’s unlikely they will do it hard enough to hurt themselves more than once,” Johnson-Hooper says. Basically, if they hit their heads too hard, they likely won’t do it with as much gusto next time.
Although they are unlikely to seriously injure themselves, bruising may occur.
The best way to get your child to stop this action is to ignore it. Like any tantrum, if you overreact or feed into it, the child will realize that doing this bad behavior results in more attention.
“Even picking up your child to stop the head butting is reinforcing the behavior,” says Johnson. “If you’re worried about their safety, pick the child up, put them in their crib and leave the room. This ensures that they are safe, but you’re still ignoring them.”
If the behavior is happening for an extended period of time, contact your family pediatrician.
It could also be a response to pain, such from an ear infection or new tooth that they are unable to verbalize to you, Dr. Johnson-Hooper says.
Head butting also is often seen while a child is preparing to fall asleep. This is not problematic and should not be taken seriously.
Toddlers may rock or head bang while falling asleep. They simply enjoy the rhythmic movement like when they were in the womb, experts say.
Made sure their crib or bed has a soft place for them to rock their head, but be cautious to not over-stuff it with pillows and blankets for fear of suffocation.
Many parents are worried that this head-banging behavior is an early indicator of autism or other developmental disorders. While it is one symptom, without other red flags, the behavior on its own is no need for alarm.