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How To Deal With A Child That Head Bangs?

Updated on March 22, 2017

First Night Jitters

If your child head bangs then you know just how scary and upsetting it is when you experience them doing it for the first time. Especially if you have no earlier knowledge that something like this exists. I remember vividly the first night our son began head banging. It was 10:30pm and my wife and I were in our bedroom getting ready for bed, our son had been in bed for three hours and I had checked in on him a few minutes earlier, he was sound asleep. I was talking to my wife when she abruptly shushed me... her head turned to the wall dividing our bedroom from our sons as we listened intently together both staring at the wall when my wife said "is that coming from his roo" I cut of my wife with a shhh of my own, we continued to listen both terrified by what we were hearing. Through the paper-thin walls of our old Victorian house we could hear a loud but muffled humming noise accompanied by a banging sound coming from our sons room next door, the noises were rhythmic and in unison with each other. It was extremely unsettling. We listened for what seemed like forever but actually it was only a matter of about ten seconds before I hastily started towards the door to make my way into our sons bedroom, closely followed by my petrified wife. My wife and I were full of concern for our son as well as scared, we cautiously entered his room.


Your Child Is Not Possessed

Have you ever seen the movie The Exorcist? about a little girl who gets possessed by a demon who takes control of the girls body and mind. I have to admit, for a split second the notion did cross my mind, but I am a true sceptic and an Atheist so I very quickly surmised that there had to be a rational explanation for my sons actions. My wife and I stood in the doorway of my sons bedroom for a few seconds before moving closer to his bed. The Rhythmic humming noises were in fact coming out of our son, he was lifting his torso fully of off his bed and slamming his head back down into his pillow whilst at the same time rhythmically humming to himself. The banging noise was coming from my sons metal bed frame knocking against the wall. I knelt next to the bed and touched the back of his head, stroking it slightly and shush shush shushing him.. He stopped, instantly, just like that.


With Knowledge Comes Understanding

My wife and I instantly started searching the internet desperately hoping to find some information that would lead us to an explanation. We quickly discovered that what our son was doing was in fact quite common, We also discovered that there were many reasons why he could be doing it.

After my wife and I had returned to our room he continued to head bang, and for the next week the head banging continued with each episode lasting from between one and five minutes occurring sporadically throughout the night.


Reasons why your child might be head banging

  • A need for attention - Children like it when you fuss over them and your child might head bang as a way of seeking your attention.
  • Self Comfort - Children who rhythmically head bang or body rock do so as a self comforting tool much in the way that using a dummy sooths younger children.
  • Pain Relief - Again as a form of self comfort your child may head bang as a distraction from an ear infection or a head ache etc..
  • Anxiety/stress relief - A child who is stressed or anxious about something might head bang, again for comfort.
  • Developmental problems - Head banging can be a sign of developmental problems such as Autism

To See Or Not To See...Your GP

Our son was 22 months old when he started head banging, so at first we were hesitant to go and see our GP, however after thee weeks of being woken nightly by our sons head banging we decided to see a doctor. Our GP was sympathetic, but sadly was unable to give us any information we didn't already have, our GP advised us to come back if he hadn't stopped by the time he was four.

Most children usually grow out of head banging by the age of 3 or 4

Caring Perseverance

So we continued to endure the nightly routine of being woken by knocking and humming. We took measures to make sure our son was safe and to minimise the noise he was making. We got rid of our sons rickety metal bed frame and replaced it with a sturdy wooden framed bed. We moved the bed away from the wall so it wouldn't knock against it and we covered the frame of his bed with soft foam to stop him from hurting himself. These measures gave us some comfort but they never truly alleviated the stress of the situation, we were still being woken nightly and with my wife pregnant with our second child it just added to the stress.

Nine Months

When my son turned four the head banging had got slightly better but we returned to see our GP anyway. This time my wife and I insisted on a referral. We now had a one year old daughter and the head banging was still disrupting everyone's night-time routines. Our GP referred us to a pediatrics department at our local hospital but it would be seven months before the letter came through the door and a further two months for the appointment to come around. At the time of our first referral appointment my son was almost turning five and although we had noted the head banging had become less frequent it was still a regular occurrence.

Most children that head bang do so as a form of self comfort

Another Nine Months

The appointment at the hospital didn't bring us closer to resolving our problem, the paediatrician had never seen anything like it before despite being shown the video at the beginning of this article. They told us we would need another referral at one of only two hospitals in the UK that specialise in paediatric sleep conditions. The doctor warned us that this referral could take up to six months.

My son is now six years old and continues to head bang to this day. It is much less frequent and lasts only a short time when he does do it, so were bearing with it. Nine months later were still waiting for that referral and we continue to persevere staying strong as a family and still hoping that our son will just suddenly stop his head banging. Were comfortable in the fact that our son doesn't have any special needs or learning disability's which could be a sign of head banging, but we are disappointed with the lack of support and the length of time we have had to wait for referrals and the lack of publicity this type of thing receives considering the negative impact it can have on people's lives, like it did on ours


Does your child head bang?

If your child has just started head banging, or if your child starts head banging in the future here are some bullets of advice.

  • Don't panic - Head Banging in children is extremely common and is rarely a sign of development problems such as Autism.
  • It shouldn't last long - Children typically start head banging between ages 18-24 months and usually stop between age 3-4 years.
  • Protect your child - Cover hard surfaces like bed frames and move the bed away from walls
  • Don't draw attention to it - Some children head bang for attention, don't feed into it or you could be making the situation worse. Allow the episode to pass on it's own, there's no need to get involved unless your child is hurting themselves.
  • Bedtime routine - Give your child a soothing bedtime routine, warm bath, big cuddle, soothing story.....NO TV OR TABLETS
  • Play rhythmic games - Satisfy the rhythmic urge during the day by clapping along to music and playing games such as ring around the roses.
  • Avoid too early bedtime - This is a tricky one, you want your child to be sleepy but not over tired before putting them to bed.
  • See your GP - If your child continues head banging after age 4 or if the head banging is severely disrupting home life consider consulting a GP. You should also consult your GP if your child is head banging during the day or is at risk of causing harm to themselves.

Head Banging can also be a sign of developmental problems such as Autism. If your child is becoming increasingly withdrawn, such as shunning physical contact or looking into space or through you instead of at you, or if they are missing certain key milestones such as physical or language development you should consult your GP.


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