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Why would a toddler hit the side of his head with his hand? And what to do about it?

Let’s examine why this may be, what illnesses to look for, and how to avoid reinforcing the behavior.

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Mom’s Question:

I am worried because my toddler hits the side of his head with his hand.

What happens is that my baby, who is 14 months old, soon to be 15 months, continually slaps himself on the side of his head. What could this be? Could he be sick? Or is it because he in angry? What should I do about it?


Reasons Why a Toddler Hits the Side of His Head

Headbanging is common in early childhood. Research studies have found 15-20% of healthy children engaging in this type of behavior between the ages of 1 and four years. Nevertheless, when young children engage in this type of repetitive behaviors, we, as parents, should, of course, try to find out why to be able to address the behavior in the best way. You mention pain and anger as possible reasons, and you are completely right that these are common causes of head-slapping in toddlers.

Pain on the side of the head or throat

When a baby or toddler slaps his head on one side continuously, getting this checked out with your child’s doctor might pay. You didn’t say if it was just one side, but I wonder if he has an ear infection, a sore throat, or problems with a tooth coming in.

Some toddlers don’t cry unless the pain is severe, but they are still annoyed by it, and his hitting may be trying to get the annoying feeling away or dull the pain he is feeling.

My sister’s oldest son had many ear infections as a toddler and never cried or seemed ill but would rub his eyes. It took Mom and Dad several burst eardrums before they started recognizing the eye rubbing as a sign of an ear infection.

Babies can’t verbalize pain due to their limited language skills and sometimes can’t even locate the pain. So, any repetitive unusual things like rubbing or hitting may show you he is in pain.

Anger and Big Emotions

You also mention anger as a possible reason for your son’s head-slapping. Temper tantrums in toddlers do not go unnoticed, and if your toddler hit his head only as part of a tantrum, I am sure you would already know. This is a common behavior in toddlers. In addition to hitting their own head, banging their head against a hard surface, hitting someone else, or biting are examples of aggressive behavior that toddlers may resort to during a tantrum. While unpleasant, these behaviors are considered normal during the toddler years as the child can feel very strong negative emotions but lacks the ability to self-regulate.

However, not all toddlers resort to full-blown tantrums every time they are upset. My oldest son almost never did, but, of course, he was still frustrated and angry from time to time. Young children with less dramatic ways to express frustration could very well hit their heads to cope with their big feelings. This would be their way to self-soothe.


Another possible reason for hitting his head is a form of self-stimulation. Is there any chance that your toddler starts hitting his head when he is bored or understimulated?

If your toddler stops the headbanging when engaged and played with (and pain has been ruled out), you have a clue as to why he hits his head. In such a case, try to get him involved in the daily life of the family more. Parents don’t have to sit and play with a toddler on the floor for hours every day, but rather let your child participate in whatever you do. Toddlers often love “helping out”.

Seeking Attention

It is also possible that your toddler has learned that slapping his head is an excellent way to get full attention from his family members. If this may be the case, stop reacting to his hitting and instead work with distraction and positive reinforcement of other, more wanted behaviors. He will soon get bored with it if you do not artificially reinforce his head-slapping by paying attention to it.

Trying It Out

If you are sure your toddler is not in any pain from infection or teething and has developed good social skills, such as eye contact and babbling, this is likely just a behavior he is trying out. Maybe he enjoys the physical stimulation or, again, your attention.

Developmental disorders

If you have doubts about your toddler’s social skills or overall development being in line with his age, be sure to discuss this with your child’s pediatrician. Unexplained, repetitive behaviors, in addition to social skills falling behind, can be a sign of autism spectrum disorder in babies and toddlers and should be evaluated as soon as possible.


To conclude, even though it is common that toddlers are headbangers, I suggest you rule out any illnesses or developmental delays as soon as possible. If you come to the conclusion that this is just a behavior he is trying out, try a combination of ignoring it and distracting him in positive ways.

If you see that he is about to start the slapping, draw his attention to something else – like playing with you, a toy he loves, music, or something else. Don’t try to stop him or react strongly actively. This will only reinforce the behavior.

I hope it sorts itself out soon.

Good luck and enjoy your little boy,


(Answer approved by our Medical Reference Team)

More Babies That Hit Themselves

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This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Sarah

    My 6-month-old son hits himself in the face with a balled-up fist quite a bit. When I took him to the pediatrician, he started doing this. I asked what it could be, and he said, “weird baby thing”. So I think that it’s nothing to worry about.
    I do not trust doctors ALWAYS, but he had just had a complete checkup and was healthy with no ear infections. He is teething tho, so maybe he hits himself in the face to override the teething pain in his gums. Maybe try some Tylenol to see if it helps.

  2. 1st time mom

    Hi, my son is 14 months old and has been hitting his head against anything when he is angry or trying to seek attention. Sometimes he will just crawl out of the playmat to hit his head on the floor tiles. He has been doing this for a couple of months.
    Some mums told me it’s a phase. It has happened to my niece for about a year too. I do hope this phase will pass soon.

  3. Shabs

    My son does the same – slaps his head repeatably. I have been to see the doctor many times. They think I’m overreacting, but my son has had many ear infections in the past. I don’t know what to do now.

  4. Karen

    My son as well is only 15 months old, and he does the slapping on his head and pulls his ears as well. The ear tugging I understand, but as far as him slapping his head, it is very confusing to me and makes me feel hurt to see when he slaps his head like that… Think I should go see his primary doc!!

  5. Heather

    Hi Lori,
    My 19-month-old son does the same thing and also pulls his head. When they get to your baby’s age, I think they either want attention or are just not getting what they want.

    When my son doesn’t get what he wants, he will get mad and hit himself in the head. Both sides at that.

    Hope this helps with your question. But if you still feel like you need to talk to the doctor about it, I would if I were you.

    Good Luck with your baby.

  6. Elle

    I’ve been worried for weeks about this issue. My 18-month-old grandson hits himself in the head and across the face, but nobody seems to offer a plausible answer. He is an “angry” toddler and has been from a few weeks old. His father is full of anger, and according to his mother, he was the same as a baby. Perhaps it’s just hereditary!

  7. Precious10

    My baby hits & rubs his head & eyes from when he was 2 months old. It is particularly painful to watch him do this at night – several times. Sometimes this wakes him up from his sleep & sometimes, he goes back to sleep. He is a very active baby; I thought it was just part of him being very active, or his cradle cap is bothering him or that he is just tired or anxious & is doing this to release some stress. Reading about the ear infection comment, I think I can’t ignore this & must get his ear checked.

    1. Lisa

      Precious, my son, who’s 5 months old, hits himself in the head and face while sleeping… He also shakes his head while doing it ( as if he were saying no) — he also has cradle cap– but I’ve contributed to his doing it in his sleep from his reflux. He prefers to sleep flat on his back, which is probably the worse position for reflux. My husband mentioned to me that he witnessed the head hitting tonight so I’m online searching just to reassure myself that is why he’s doing it. Since I can’t find anything, I’ll probably call the pediatrician Monday. Hope everyone has a good night :)

  8. new mommy

    I’ve been researching this topic all over different sites and don’t see any comments for babies younger than 6 months. My son just turned 4 months and started hitting himself on the left side of the head today. He also seems to do this while having his bottle mostly. He had vaccinations today. I know babies can spike a fever afterward, but can they also cause an ear infection that could be a cause of the hitting? Any thoughts?

  9. CJs mom

    my 22-month-old got so mad that he hit his head on the hardwood floor and has a huge swelling that is now bruised. I applied for a cold pack and am very worried. He was irritable and sleepy, so he fell asleep in my arms once he did this. I have heard conflicting remarks about letting them sleep. When he was a few months old, he fell off the couch, and we rushed him to ER. they did an MRI, and all was fine. What signs should I look for? should I take him to the ER? In need of advice from other parents who have been here before!!

  10. Caroline

    I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but is there a trend here, as all the comments are regarding little boys.?? Could be something to think about. I know 2 baby boys who also do this. It could just be normal

    1. Felicia

      Well, for the comment that it’s all little boys, my little girl, 14 months, has been doing it for months now. It drives me crazy. She’ll try to bang her head into me when I’m holding her; she’ll bang it on the floor, the wall, with her hands…I have a history of migraines and wondered if her little head is hurting. Developmentally she’s on track, so I don’t worry about autism. She is teething and has been, so maybe it’s that. I should look into her ears too. You never know. If they could only talk! :)

  11. Dilip

    My sister near about 3 yrs age. When she born she was normal baby and was speaking. But now she stopped speaking and only shouting n continuously hitting right hands to right side of the head. Her parents are so confused and wondering if they should be doing any kind of treatment for the baby to help her so please suggest any treatment for her.

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      Your sister should definitely take her daughter to a pediatrician. She might be in pain due to an ear infection or even a very sore throat, for example. If she has stopped talking completely, then it could also be some developmental concern. But no one should recommend treatment without examining the little girl. It would probably be helpful for the diagnosis if they can write down when the problems started and if there is anything else that has changed in her behavior, e.g. her sleep, feeding, or activity level. I wish you good luck! Very kind of you to reach out to help you niece!

  12. Lilly

    My 9-month-old baby boy hits himself on the head with his fist or anything he can lay his hands on he also bangs his head on the glass door and even other peoples heads if he gets the opportunity.

    It appears he began doing this after my friend’s toddler started hitting him on the head with a soup laddle several times. Poor little thing was in tears. After this event, it seems as though he is toughening himself up!

    Its times like these you wish they could converse as I really am not sure what it is all about.

  13. Also

    My son is 13 mos and will hit his head on the floor a wall or even me. There is no pattern, he does it when he is upset, or happy or neither I am really worried about it and will be going to the doctor.

  14. fgads

    The pain a baby gets from hitting themselves in the head is accompanied by a surge of adrenaline. They’re basically just getting themselves high.


    My grandson slaps right side of face when he does not get what he wants, but I have seen him slapping the same side while he is walking alone. Does anyone have an answer?

  16. Christiana

    My 9mon son hits his self in the head.I hope he is ok. What should i do?

  17. Grandma

    My 16 month old Grandson does that also! And
    now he hits his head with a fist or even banging it on the wall, I’m
    worried sick and came searching.