Head banging—a behavior where children repeatedly hit their heads against their mattress, pillow, crib, headboard, or even wall—can be worrying for parents to witness. Surprisingly, the seemingly painful bedtime and naptime habit may actually help children fall asleep. If your child is otherwise healthy, it’s likely not something you should stress about. Understanding what it means can help alleviate concerns.
When It Starts
Babies may start banging their heads around 6 months of age, and the behavior can last into childhood, though most children drop the habit by age 5. Babies typically either lie face down or sit upright while banging their heads, and they may also rock their body back and forth at the same time. Episodes of head banging can last as long as 15 minutes, during which children may hit their head every one to two seconds.
Why It Happens
Children often bang their heads just before going to sleep as well as during middle-of-the-night awakenings. Although the behavior looks anything but calming, it’s thought that the repetitive movement soothes babies and actually helps them nod off.
How to Respond
If the noisy habit is disrupting the rest of your household, you could try moving your child’s crib away from the wall. Otherwise, there isn’t much that parents can do to discourage the behavior. Although you may want to cushion the blows with pillows, you should avoid this since placing soft objects or blankets in the crib can increase a baby’s risk of SIDS.
Fortunately, children usually grow out of the behavior by kindergarten without any need for intervention. If you’re worried that the head banging is injuring your child, however, you should talk to your pediatrician.