Children often soothe themselves to sleep by headbanging and/or body rocking. Up to 20% of babies and toddlers headbang or move rhythmically during early childhood. Headbanging and rhythmic motion are only seen in 5% of normal, healthy children by the age of 5. This rhythmic motion can be upsetting to observe but is not a problem unless it is keeping your child awake or causing your child physical harm.
There are many different reasons your child may be headbanging. They may be trying to soothe and comfort themselves with repetitive motion. They may be trying to soothe earaches or aches from teething. They may be trying to vent their emotions or seeking attention from parents. In some cases, it could indicate a behavioral problem, though behavioral problems likely coincide with multiple other symptoms.
Episodes of headbanging and/or rhythmic motion can last 15 minutes or more, in some cases. Children exhibiting this behavior may also hum or make noises while they move. Headbanging and rhythmic motion may cease if you distract your child, or if they fall asleep. They likely won’t remember it when they wake.
Headbanging and other rhythmic movements in isolation, without other symptoms, is normal.
Headbanging involves banging the head down onto a pillow or mattress, or against a headboard or wall. This behavior will often occur around naptime and bedtime but may happen after awakenings as well.
Body rocking involves being down on hands and knees and rocking the body back and forth. Your child may also rock their body while standing or sitting. It may occur at the same time as headbanging.
Other Rhythmic Movement
Other rhythmic movement includes body rolling, leg rolling, and leg banging.
When Should I Be Concerned?
Headbanging and/or rhythmic motion without other symptoms is not concerning. These are normal ways toddler-aged children fall asleep. The only time that headbanging and rhythmic motion should be considered a problem is if it is interfering with sleep or causing your child physical harm. Contact your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about headbanging injuries, sleep disruption, or developmental delays. If your child is banging their head hard enough to do real damage, it’s time to contact your pediatric healthcare provider.
Tips for Parents with Headbanging Children
- Don’t put extra pillows or bumpers around your child’s bed or crib. They can be a suffocation hazard. If you’re concerned about their safety, make sure their bed or crib is sturdy and secure. Move the bed away from the wall if it is making noise at night.
- Don’t reinforce what might be attention-seeking behavior. Give them attention during the day and ignore headbanging at night.
- Remain calm. Though it can be scary for a parent to let their child bang their head, children don’t often hit their heads hard enough to do real damage. However, they may develop a bruise or two. This is not an indication that you’re a bad parent.
- Repurpose your child’s rhythm. Try dancing, marching, or drumming to distract them from headbanging. You can also try to add a metronome to their room to provide a rhythmic beat.
- Tire them out. If you get your kid to expel all of their energy during the day, they may have less nervous energy at night.
- Implement a bedtime routine. Set up the same sequence of events every night to soothe your child into sleep mode. Try a bath, rocking, stories, baby massages, or music at nighttime.
- Contact your pediatric healthcare practitioner if your child’s behavior is disrupting the sleep of parents, other families members, or siblings at night.
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