Head Banging as Normal Behavior


Why do normal kids bang their heads?

Dr. Greene's Answer

Many theories have been put forward to explain this common behavior. Perhaps the rocking and even the head-banging provide a form of pleasure related to the movement. This joy in movement is called our kinesthetic drive. All infants are rocked by their mothers when they are carried about in utero. Later on, they enjoy being held and rocked in parents’ arms. Movement activities continue as kids grow: the pleasure of jump rope, swings, slides, amusement park rides (bumper cars!) and dancing. These activities all engage the vestibular system of the brain. The amount and type of movement that provides pleasure varies from child to child.

Kids who are understimulated (those who are blind, deaf, bored, or lonely) head bang for stimulation. But children who are overstimulated (in an overwhelming environment) find these rhythmic movements soothing.

For some children, head-banging is a way to release tension and prepare for sleep. Some kids head-bang for relief when they are teething or have an ear infection (Primary Pediatric Care, Mosby 1992). Some kids bang their heads out of frustration or anger, as in a temper tantrum. Head-banging is an effective attention-seeking maneuver.
The more reaction children get from parents or other adults, the more likely they are to continue this habit. Generally, healthy children do not head-bang in order to injure themselves.

Last medical review on: February 06, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

My daughter is 14 months and has been head banging in her cribs when she wakes up at night for several months now. She does it to get our attention instead of crying. We have padded her entire crib around the top to stop her from getting bruises, but it still worries us. She can go on for over an hour if she wants to. I haven’t let her go longer than this, but I’d really like to help stop the behaviour. Ignoring it doesn’t seem to stop her. Any advice? She is not understimulated and since I’ve been doing home daycare for a few months she gets my attention most of the day. She’ll wake up 4-5 times, sometimes more, per night and head bang. We are getting desperate to see this behaviour stop; its affecting all of our sleep and I’m concerned still for her health… I know she isn’t autistic or slow

My boy does exactly the same. He is two now but he started at 16 months. Is yours any better?

My son is almost three years old he head bangs when you tell him no, stop or if he don’t get his way any Advice??

Mu nephew is almost 3 years old and from the day he was born, he banged his head against the pillow when he was preparing to sleep. We found this very strange but never made an attempt to stop him. He’s still doing it till this day. Thank you for this helpful post.

I have 8 year old twin step daughters they have been banging their heads for as long as I can remember and as they are getting older it’s worrying me. They were badly neglected as babies from their mother and as a result they have slow developmental issues. I’m not sure what to do.

This is such a reassuring post to read. The head banging started at 9 months and comes and goes during growth spurts and times of developmental change or teething. The clarifications about pain, consequences, and autism are so helpful. Thank you!