Head banging is when a 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 the child wakes up at night. Head banging usually lasts 15 minutes or less, but may go on for over an hour.
Head banging is usually a way for a child to comfort himself. As many as two in ten healthy children are head-bangers at some time between the ages of 6 months and 4 years of age. Boys are more likely to be head-bangers than girls. Some children head-bang when they are teething or have a painful ear infection. Some children bang their heads out of frustration or anger, as part of a temper tantrum. It can be a way to get attention from parents or other adults. Head banging is more common in children with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, schizophrenia, autism, blindness, or Down syndrome.
Most children will outgrow the habit on their own. Since the rhythmic movement is comforting to the child, it may help to find other rhythmic activities for your child. This might include dancing, marching, clapping to music, beating on toy drums, riding a rocking horse, or playing on a seesaw or a swing. Offering the child something soft, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, can also be helpful. It also helps if you stay calm and don't make a big deal about head banging, especially if it is part of a temper tantrum.
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 bang hard enough to fracture the skull or cause brain damage. Some ideas to help protect your child include placing a thick rug or rubber pad on the floor, padding the wall or crib, or having the child wear a protective helmet.
If you have any concerns, or notice other symptoms such as not looking at you or being slow to respond, talk with your child's healthcare provider.