Head banging, just not heavy metal style

I am a child of the 80’s. Loved the music and can remember driving in the car head-banging to Motley Crue, Queen, Def Leopard, etc…I think I even head banged to Journey once.

Boo bangs her head. A lot. She doesn’t bang her head on anything soft. Nope, she will move from the grass to the pavement, from the rug to the tile, from the wall to the stud in the wall.

It’s quite surprising, really, when you think about it, how she can find the stud.

I don’t know why she does it. Well, not exactly. I know she is equal parts frustrated with a healthy mix of looking for attention. But I do not believe that is the case 100% of the time.

For example, she will sit on my lap and start banging her head on my shoulder, not my hand should I try to save myself the bruise. Or she will walk up to me and start banging against my hip, not the thigh that has a lot more padding. With no correlating reason. She will just stop what she is doing, bang her head and then carry on.

I’ve been struggling with how to handle the behavior. Do I ignore it and risk her hurting herself (she has once hit with such force she had an egg on her forehead). Or do I hug her or do I scream (yep, done that!). Do I apply pressure or give her the words for what she is feeling? Not sure how to do that since I don’t know what set it off in the first place!

I’ve tried all of the above. She still bangs her head.

The thing is, I do not believe she feel the pain. Not only that, but it must be giving her some relief as she is using it to relieve her frustration.

This week Boo banged her head while we were at one of the many specialists office. This time she was definitely looking for attention (or she was tired of us talking like she wasn’t in the room). She started banging her head on the table, I stopped her but continued talking to the doctor.

Because he is one of the doctors who truly cares about Boo and reads her case file the night before our semi-annual visit says, “Oh I was going to ask if she is still head banging”.

Yep she is!

But unlike the other doctors, this one actually offered me advice! He told me that studies have shown that children like Boo who head-bang do not feel the pain input. They recommend that you stop the child and make them safe but do not engage them (i.e. ask what is wrong) or acknowledge what they are doing in any way (i.e. the helpful therapist that said to say in a sing-song voice “Boo I know you are frustrated, you should tell mommy that you are sad”–okay lady the child cannot tell me she is hungry and you want her to tell me she is sad?).

Basically, just stop her from banging her head and go about my business.

But then we went to OT last night and Boo got scared by something the therapist wanted to try. When she got off the swing Boo went off the soft mat to the concrete and again started head banging. This time I knew what was wrong, she was scared and upset that something was forced on her.

I stopped her and did as the MD suggested. The OT went to Boo and said, “Boo I know you were scared and Miss S should have understood sooner”. I explained what the MD had suggested. She countered that she felt it was better to engage the child and validate their feelings.

Mixed messages.

I feel like an absolute idiot saying (in a soft, sing-song voice), “Boo you must be feeling….” especially since half the time I don’t know what has frustrated her. I will, for now, follow the MD advice. Make her safe and not acknowledge/engage the behavior.

And I will start to play Motley Crue more often.

4 thoughts on “Head banging, just not heavy metal style

  1. Maya

    This is such a hard one! My older son is on the autism spectrum and was (is) a head banger. He's 3.5. When he was younger he did the table, walls, floor, you name it. Sometimes it was for attention, sometimes out of anger/frustration, and sometimes because I think he just liked how it felt. He would give himself bruises and cuts but didn't seem to notice (we later learned kids on the spectrum process pain differently). The rule we decided to use (in conjunction with his OT and behaviorist) was to go ahead and let him head bang if he was doing it in a safe manner (i.e. – on his bed mattress). If it was an unsafe place, like the floor, i would just silently pick him up and move him to a safe place (almost always his bed). We didn't engage him verbally about it, though if he got really upset we might say “we need you to be safe” or something like that.

    Over time, his head banging has drastically decreased. He still head bangs on his mattress to fall asleep, wake up, and calm himself when super stressed. But, that's pretty much it. No more hard surfaces.

    I know it can be really hard to know what to do when you're getting conflicted opinions. Good luck with whatever path you decide!

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