Skip to main content

Should you be worried if your toddler bangs their head? Here’s when to be concerned

When a toddler is found banging their head on a surface, it is understood that most parents are genuinely concerned and bothered by the action. Anytime a child engages in peculiar activities or acts out in new or strange ways, parents worth their salt will be curious as to why. Naturally, parents become very worried about such behaviors and reach out for resources and support from others when their little ones exhibit potentially dangerous actions. If you find yourself banging your head with worry and asking, “Why does my toddler hit his head?”, it’s only natural to be worried.

Not only is it completely understandable for you to feel incredibly anxious or concerned about your toddler’s headbanging situation, but this behavior is also normal under most circumstances and explainable for most situations. That’s not just an opinion. There are many experts backing up this information.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why would a toddler bang their head?

To most adults, banging one’s head off a surface draws up the feeling of frustration or hurt. It’s for this reason that parents find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of worry that they are doing something wrong or are somehow failing at their job as caregivers. It may come as a surprise to a lot of parents however, headbanging in babies and toddlers is a normal action or activity that little ones sometimes engage in. Pediatrician Dr. Elana Pearl-Ben-Joseph, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Nemours Children’s Health System tells parents, “Headbanging can be upsetting for parents to see. But in most cases, occasional headbanging is a form of self-stimulation, self-comfort, or a way to release frustration.”

Headbanging has been linked to self-soothing – the repetitiveness being a calming sensation for babies or toddlers’ busy minds for rest, to self soothe after waking up in the night, or to redirect their attention from teething pain or an ear infection. Up to 20% of children bang their heads on purpose, most of them being boys. They usually outgrow this habit, often by the age of three.

Dr. Ben-Joseph goes on to encourage parents by telling them: “While headbanging is common and usually nothing to worry about, in some kids it can be part of a developmental problem. A child who is headbanging often, particularly if there’s a question of developmental delay or abnormal social interactions, should be seen by a doctor”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to handle a toddler who bangs their head

If you have discovered your little one tapping their heads against a surface, you may be wondering what you can do to intervene. It’s important that parents:

    • Ensure your child is safe from injury. As long as your little one is not injuring themselves with their actions or striking their head on a surface that could potentially injure them, there’s no immediate need to step in. Most kids will use their bedding, pillows, headboard, or crib railing to self-soothe.
    • Do not scold or reprimand your toddler for engaging in this behavior. Most children are too young to understand that what they are doing is wrong. If shame or punishment is brought into the mix, it can cause future issues for parents as well as for kids.
    • Ensure your child is not suffering from an injury or illness. Small children cannot communicate their pain to adults well, and they may choose to try and distract themselves from an earache, a tooth popping through their gums, or a headache. You should address those medical needs at once and re-evaluate your child’s head-hitting habit later after the discomfort they were feeling is addressed.
    • Follow-up and address any lingering worries with your child’s pediatrician. Any time you have a question or concern about your child, it’s paramount to speak to your pediatrician promptly. This allows you to see the issue as it is manifesting, while also giving you a clear picture of what is actively happening with your child, instead of after the fact. By including your child’s pediatrician in your worries or fears about headbanging and what it could mean for your child specifically, you’re addressing all medical and behavioral problems at one time. This can allow your child’s physician to diagnose any underlying medical issues or identify issues before they develop further.

It’s perfectly normal to feel worried if you find your child bumping their head from the crib railing during the night. Some parents can feel overwhelmingly concerned that their child is in imminent danger or is experiencing major trauma, however, headbanging is normal behavior during the first few years of development.

If your child persists to bang their heads or are experiencing other symptoms such as lack of speech, hyper-emotion, or other developmental delays, speak with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.

Editors' Recommendations

Emily Pidgeon
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Emily's work has appeared in the Tube City Almanac, Tube City Online and our Affinity Sites. When she's not writing, she is…
Are baby walkers safe? 5 dangerous reasons you shouldn’t add one to your registry
Learn why baby walkers are unsafe
Infant in baby walker

Baby walkers are a common shower gift and considered a must-have item in some circles. While in others baby walkers are considered taboo. So, what should parents know about baby walkers? Are baby walkers safe for your child to use? These are questions you may be asking as your infant is getting to the age where he or she is starting to walk and explore. Although baby walkers may be a popular gift and toy, the reality is they are actually quite unsafe.

Even though you may have used a baby walker as a child yourself, in this day and age, there is quite a bit of information about just how hazardous baby walkers can be. If you're considering getting a baby walker, putting one on your registry, or if you already have a baby walker in your home, keep reading before you pop your toddler in.

Read more
Should your kids have an Apple Watch?
These are the pros and cons of an Apple Watch for your kid
A person checking their Apple watch.

If there’s one thing on every kid’s wish list when they get to a certain age, it’s a smartwatch. Wearables are the coolest and fun new gadgets for kids, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight with the demand for one. Smartwatches are the height of convenience, allowing users to leave their phones in their bags and do everything right there on their wrists. But since there isn't a kids' Apple Watch version available, children are getting the real deal.

With all the convenience, though, some people have major privacy concerns about wearable devices, especially when it comes to their children. When used correctly with appropriate parental controls, smartwatches, especially the Apple Watch, could be a boon to both kids and parents alike. But should your kid sport a device designed for adults? Let's see if children should wear an Apple Watch or if it's one more device they shouldn't be left alone with.

Read more
This one sure signal your toddler feels out of control
Toddler pulling hair may mean they're feeling out of control
Toddler pulling their hair

The toddler years are full of development and discovery that can often be a bit overwhelming for them at times. Let's face it, toddlers are inundated with new experiences almost daily, which can often lead to some behaviors you may find troubling. As a result, they can often become frustrated as they try to process all this new information. They don't call them the 'terrible twos' for nothing!

While temper tantrums and meltdowns come hand in hand with having a toddler, there are other behaviors that may be a sign that they're not quite feeling like themselves. If your toddler is pulling their own hair, it may be because they feel out of control, which can be completely understandable. Toddlers pulling their hair is a very common behavior and is often a form of self-soothing that helps them cope with stressful situations. If you've noticed your toddler has begun to pull their hair, there are some things you can do to help.

Read more