Why does my toddler bang his head?

Q.  Our two-year-old son bangs his head hard when he doesn’t get his own way. I’m not sure what to do. He’s developing very well otherwise.

A. Head-banging is a reasonably common behaviour in the toddler years, peaking between six months and three years. It can be very distressing for parents to observe, especially when it is done with sufficient force to leave a mark and bruising. But serious consequences are uncommon, and eventually children simply grow out of doing it.

We don’t really understand why some kids head-bang, but it does feature more in boys. It is probably an extension of other childhood specific soothing behaviours, like thumb or finger-sucking and rocking repetitively. Children prone to head-banging tend to do it more when stressed or feeling overwhelmed; it's also more common when they're overtired or hungry.

There is no specific management strategy which is thought to help, other than not giving the child too much attention and therefore inadvertently “rewarding” their behaviour. In a practical sense, having lots of soft flooring for protection, with mats, rugs and pillows may help during peak head-banging times.

There is no room for punishment here; children who do this are not able to deal with their emotions in a more socially appropriate and mature way. Until they develop better skills in emotional regulation, these types of meltdowns are common. Give him time; he will evolve out of this stage.

Jane Barry is a registered nurse, midwife and child health nurse