Rhythmic Behavior


I have a question about a 2-year-old banging his head. He does it on anything hard, such as crib rails, walls, doors, oven--whatever. Why is he doing this? Can he hurt himself?

Dr. Greene`s Answer:

Head banging is a rhythmic behavior that is closely related to thumb sucking and body rocking. When parents see it they often get concerned about either its being a sign of a developmental problem (like autism) or that it might cause some brain damage.

Thankfully, the truth is better than most parents guess. About 20 percent of normal, healthy kids bang their heads. It usually starts soon after the first birthday and disappears on its own by about age 4.

When they have done studies of head bangers compared to peers, they usually prove to be more intelligent than average. Also, don’t be too concerned about injury. It is very difficult to truly hurt oneself that way.

Usually you can get head banging to stop more quickly by not drawing much attention to it. Try to casually distract your child away from it with something else and do not give in if he is doing it as part of a tantrum. If it is being used as a form of self-comfort, hugging and swaying can be a good substitute. There are also devices that gently vibrate the bed, which may help.

If you are very concerned, videotape the head banging and have your pediatrician watch it, just to be sure it is the normal kind and not a symptom of some other problem.

Last medical review on: July 02, 2008
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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

I’m 39,ADHD,Asperger’s,and have some other diagnosis also. My 2 boys are the same with one being diagnosed with the full spectrum almost. My question is about the rhythmic behavior. My mom slept in a chair until I was 4, because she couldn’t put me down to sleep, I would scream. I also head butted the ground no matter concrete, hard floor, crib, or carpet. She said she would pick me up and move me to the carpet so I wouldn’t hurt myself. I would watch TV swaying, swinging my arms,etc. Couldn’t sit still!!! I’m an adult now and haven’t met anyone like me.
I still sway, have a tic with holding my head to the side, can’t live w/o a rocking chair and I’m not even aware of these habits until someone points it out. I also grunt now. My dad would scream at me, “Andrea! be still, stop rocking!”, but I can’t. I have to concentrate to the point of anxiety to not rock or sway! The worst thing is I can’t drive w/o rocking, always have. I’ve been laughed at, made to feel humiliated- passers-by will honk and start rocking to mimic me and point. It is so natural to me, I don’t even notice. No one can tell me why at my age I still do this? You wouldn’t want to be in a car with me driving if I had to sit still ( I can’t function right). My boys were diagnosed with Aspergers and then I was because it was unheard when I was little. I’m proud of who I am, and my boys are, quirky makes us unique and we are entertaining with no filter but never boring.
Have you ever seen someone who is from my age group, that still rocks and sways, a rock driver, and has strange ticks? My boys and this generation have so much help and awareness that they’re different from me and my behaviors. I’ve had little friends, I’ve been becoming reclusive as I get older but I’m lonely. I have cried for so long about being weird over the years, that now with my constant research helping my kids, I introduce myself and say I have Aspergers up front so people will understand why I may seem different, and if they haven’t heard of it, it’s one person more to educate.
But why can’t I stop rocking and grunting at my age, I can’t be 70 driving and rocking, and I’ve been asked by people if I’m on something. It’s frustrating!!! Thanks for the vent!!!

I’ve never been diagnosed . With asphbergers that is. Adhd and a fee other thing but never that. I am almost 34 and I still sway constantly. Waiting in line or anything standing still. I rock when in pain or overwhelmed. I know u were looking for answers but this post helped me . Thank u