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Mom’s Question:
We are concerned that our 10-month-old baby is hitting himself in the head. It seems he does this when he gets excited. Our son would hit the right side of his head with his right hand and sometimes both sides with both hands. And it seems he is doing this more often now.

We’ve read many forums where other parents are experiencing the same thing. However, I have not seen in these forums what explains this behavior and if it is normal.

Should we be concerned? Is this a normal behavior? What is the cause or explanation of this behavior?

Your advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you,
Arlyn
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)


Baby Helpline:

Baby is Hitting Himself in the Head – Normal Or Not?

You’re completely right that this is common behavior, especially at around 1-year-old. The behavior can start at early as around 6 months and continue until the child is a few years old.

There are a number of reasons why a baby might be hitting himself in the head and it is completely normal.

Hitting themselves can also be a warning sign of developmental issues, and I’ll write more about that at the bottom of this article.

Normal Reasons Why a Baby is Hitting Himself in the Head

1. Frustration

Babies hit themselves, bite themselves, bang their heads against the wall or floor, etc. It looks awful but is usually their way of coping with frustration and anger.

Often, the baby does the same (hit or bite) their parents too when angry with them or even just for fun and to see the reaction.

This way of hitting themselves when frustrated is often seen in young toddlers that try to achieve something that they find difficult – such as building a tower that just falls down or putting on their trousers.

Dealing with negative emotions is hard for any person, and for babies and toddlers, of course very hard. This is where toddler tantrums start too – the child really wants something, but is unable to manage it or is not allowed.

It’s tough to deal with strong emotions  – no matter if you are a baby of an adult!

2. Excitement

Just like frustration and anger are strong emotions, so is excitement. Banging their head can be a child’s way of expressing excitement too. One of my children clearly did that, and obviously your son too.

It is quite easy to relate too, don’t you think? Being very excited and hit your head a little bit, clap your hands or jump up and down.

Again, this is a sensory way of handling strong emotions and completely normal. Older children and adults are more likely to clap their hands, dance, or cheer – because we’ve learned that these are normal and accepted ways to respond to the excitement. Babies just do what they feel like.

3. Pain-relief

Another possibility is pain-relief, so having his ears checked could be a good idea, even though if you for sure can derive the behavior to excitement, and he is showing no other signs of illness, then I think you most likely have already identified the reason for his hitting.

But, since he uses hitting himself in the head as a tool to relieve strong emotions, be on guard if he suddenly starts doing if more frequently or at times when you don’t think he is excited. Chances are that he would do it also because of for example ear or teething pain.

So what to do..?

Since you are quite convinced that your son’s behavior is related to excitement, you don’t have to worry. It is normal and it passes. Since your boy is now 10 months old, he is starting to understand words, and you can say “no” and gently stop him from hitting himself.

You can also show him with his hand how to “pat gently” or something like that.

BUT don’t make a lot of fuss about it – if your reactions are strong, or if he gets a lot of attention for this behavior, you might end up actually reinforcing it! So unless he seems to be hurting himself, try ignoring the behavior and focus on distracting him instead.

I’ve noticed, for example, that talking even to quite young babies (at around 1-1.5 years) in a very engaging way, confirming their feeling without judging can really make them calmer. At least sometimes.

But again, any kind of positive distraction is usually the most effective way with young children if you want to reduce a certain behavior.

When Hitting Himself in the Head is a Warning Sign

While in most cases, this is just normal baby behavior, a baby hitting himself in the head can also be a reason for concern.

Hitting the head all through the day for no apparent reason and falling behind developmental milestones would be a reason for concern and should be discussed with a pediatrician, but that does not seem to be the case with your son.

Other signs of worry would be if he would hit his head very often, randomly or if at each time would continue for more than 15 minutes.

But again, the way you describe it, I would believe this to be normal. You can, of course, film one of the events and show a doctor, to make sure the behavior would be considered normal when seen. In such a case, it can be a good idea to take notes on the frequency and length of the episodes too.

But in conclusion, as described by you, I wouldn’t worry.

Your boy is learning how to deal with his emotions, and that takes time. (A whole lifetime, really… ;-) ) Just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself or someone else. And don’t yell at him.

I hope this helps!
Paula

Parents, if your baby is hitting himself in the head too – please leave a comment below!

More Discussions About Babies That Hit

Comments

Sep 11, 2018My 16-month-old hits himself in the head.
by: Anonymous

I am amazed this is so common, I have three children and it’s only my youngest(16 months)that is hitting himself in his head and just recently banging his head on things. It’s got to be natural to think something else more serious could be wrong but the only times he does it is when he wants to lead me somewhere and I try to redirect him and he gets mad. So I guess it is frustration or a tantrum.


Oct 17, 2018So glad I found this!
by: Jess

This is day #2 for me dealing with this new behavior. My son is 10 1/2 months and has started either banging his fists into his mouth or uses whatever object he has in his hand to bang into his mouth (even hitting his teeth). He does it when he is angry, which is every time I change him! I was about ready to cry this morning, telling my husband that I think our son has anger issues or something. I was racking my brain to think of how he possibly could have learned such an awful way to deal…thank God I don’t have to blame myself anymore! Glad to see that this is a normal stage. I don’t know if I should ignore it though, or try the calm soothing voice. It seems that when I try to calm him or give him kisses he gets angrier. I hope it passes soon though because it’s not easy to see him do this!!!


Nov 25, 2018My 1yr. old bangs his head on the floor
by: Danny

My son just started this behavior on his 1st birthday as well. [Banging head on the floor and sometimes toys when frustrated or tired]. I don’t really think it’s anything major to worry about at this stage in their lives. It is disturbing to watch, but it seems to be fairly normal behavior. As mentioned above, I tell my wife all the time I think it’s very important to not give him a big overly-dramatic response to his actions or he will continue to do it, even more, on this basis alone. When he does it I generally just watch closely to make sure he’s not actually hurting himself,(which he only does very rarely and I think it’s on accident when he actually does), and very calmly tell him “no-no”, as to not give him an overly-exciting response. Sometimes, also I believe it has to do with his teeth cutting in. And of course, in that case, we give him something for it and it tends to help some.
I truly believe he will grow out of it in a few months if we continue on this path, and he will find different ways to deal with his anger and frustrations. This is a time in their lives where much is changing and once they get settled in as toddlers they should stop. I hope this helps… and good luck with your little ones!


Mar 03, 20192 yr old hitting himself

by: Brenda


Glad I found these posts. However, my grandson just started hitting himself in the head the past couple weeks and he is 2 1/2 years old.

Is this common for a 2 1/2-year-old as well or just for the 1 1/2-year-olds and younger? Seems to do it when he is tired or frustrated in trying to express himself verbally. I raised 3 of my own children and never had this issue so I found it quite alarming.


Mar 03, 2019Still common
by: Paula (Easy Baby Life)

Hi Brenda,
It is still very common up until around 4 years old or even to somewhere around the fifth birthday to have problems dealing with anger and frustration. And the two-three year old really are often the ones acting out the most.

As I said in an earlier comment, try to avoid focusing on it and instead praise and acknowledge your grandson the second he stops with the behavior; that will help him get through this faster. Remember that he isn’t being mean or rude (or weird) he is just exploding in emotions and has not learned how to deal with his feelings yet.

Make sure he is in a safe environment and can’t hurt himself. Stay with him, stay calm, and show him your love and appreciation every time he starts calming down.

You can read more about why babies hit themselves here

Hope this helps,

Paula


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This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Ro

    Hi, our daughter (15 months) started hitting her head with right hand whenever she doesn’t like things, we try to chase her just to pull her sock up or lift her up from behind. She has been doing it for about a week now and it seems to us it occurs when she disagree with something.
    I must say it is not always, however it looks she’s doing it more and more often.
    Your advice would be much appreciated. I do understand all comments above but I haven’t come across anyone related to our babies behaviour.

    1. Hi Ro,
      If you’ve nailed hitting down to situations when she is likely to be frustrated, then that’s most exactly what this is about! She doesn’t like the situation and she is using non-verbal communication and expression to deal with her frustration.

      I’m not surprised that you see the behavior more and more often – she is at an age of strong will and strong emotions. Just imagine being on the go exploring the world, and someone stops you, lifts you up, and puts socks on you that you didn’t ask for! No wonder she is expressing frustration! :-)

      Try to make as little fuss as possible about the behavior – otherwise she might increase the frequency because of the attention she gets! You can definitely try to validate her feelings, “I can see that you really don’t want those socks, right?” Or whatever the situation is, but also focus on fun and distraction. You can read about about that here.

      Good luck! Have fun with your little girl!

  2. Ishan

    I am so glad that i ended up no reading this post. I am really thankful for your question and thorough answer.
    My baby has just turned 10 and started doing this since few days and i was worried initially.
    His mom was getting impatient about it and was getting negative thoughts. i have explained this is common after reading this and she is relieved so is me.
    Our baby just hits on right head for like 2-3 times in one minute and then with force try to pull few hairs around the same time. Then we distract him and he forgets about it for like few hours and might do it again or not.
    Rest of the day is very playful and not concerned about it at all.

    The only unique behaviour which i saw is different from the post for our baby, is pulling hairs “like a small pull”, at the end of the banging on head with his right hand.

    I hope all other parents find this post and get relaxed. happy parenting !

    1. Hi Ishan,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment! I am happy to hear that you found this post helpful and that you are able to distract your baby when he starts hitting his head. Distraction is the best strategy for our young ones!

      Best, Paula

  3. Alyssa

    My little boy is 1 year old this week and has just started doing this when hes frustrated, tired or bored. Im glad to read its quite normal

  4. Kayla torres

    I’ve read your arrival and has really inspired me but I do have one other concern my son also smacks his head normally when he upset gets excited but also when he’s in bed and sometimes for no reason. He was born 2 months early but he’s catching up nicely he’s 2yrs old so I’m still a little concerned. Is there any possibility that my son might have an issue?

    1. Hi Kayla,
      As I described in this article, babies and toddlers often do smack themselves out of excitement or frustration. But other reasons are common too – for example, self-soothing and being tired – or even when bored! You can read about these reasons in this article.

      It IS common for babies and toddlers to hit themselves, so in most cases, this is just a stage they go through and nothing to care about or try to “fix” at all.

      However, smacking themselves CAN be a sign of developmental issues or a hearing problem, for example. But in that case, there would be other signs too. (The article I linked to covers that too) Your son was born premature, but you say he is catching up, which sounds great! Is he communicating, and being social? Can he talk at least a little bit and understand what you say?

      If you are concerned about his development, don’t wait with consulting a doctor. Early intervention is extremely important to help children with any type of development challenges.

      In addition to that, just make sure to interact and have fun with your son as much as you can. A 2-year-old needs lots of interaction, they usually love contributing to the household if they are allowed, and they are quite able to finish small tasks too! My oldest was SO proud when he was allowed to take out the garbage! :-) He loved doing the dishes too – dressed just in his diapers, usually.

      Don’t make a big fuss about his head smacking, so you end up reinforcing it. Try to distract him in a positive way, with games, talking, singing, doing things together, having fun outside, and just enjoy your time together. (And check with a doctor to ease your worrying or get the help your son needs.)

      Good luck and let me know how things go!

      Paula

  5. Gie

    My baby is 1 yr 2 mos old and still hitting his head, especially when he feels he did something bad or somebody is shouting at him. Somebody told me it’s not normal. I’m worried.

    1. Hi Gie,
      This is a very common behavior, so don’t worry.

      Babies and young toddlers are learning to deal with their frustrations and they may hit themselves, bang their heads, even bite themselves. I’ve seen it in many babies and toddlers.

      Try to engage in your young toddler’s feelings, confirming them (“I can understand that you are angry”) and try to comfort him rather than getting upset about how the anger is expressed.

      Unless he risks really hurting himself or someone else, then you don’t have to focus on the behavior. If you want to make it stop faster, then rather focus on positive consequences the minute he stops with the behavior. Then pick him up, hug him, tell him what a big boy he is who can be angry without banging his head, etc.

      He might be a bit too young to understand that yet, but over then months to come reinforcing the positive behavior will be far more effective than trying to force him to stop.

      You mention that he does this when somebody is shouting at him. If this “somebody” is an adult, ask them to stop. Children younger than 2 years do not understand verbal correction very well, and especially not verbal correction that is shouted to them. It makes nothing to improve their behavior long-term, it only makes them scared.

      But above all – your baby is normal, so don’t worry!
      Paula

  6. Concerned

    My son (5 mos) just started doing this within the last couple of days. He makes a fist and hits himself in the head repeatedly while trying to go to sleep. I was concerned also.

    I remember my nephew (now 3) banging his head on the bed to go to sleep, but the doctor said not to worry. I guess I am concerned that the behavior is actually painful.

    Reading some of the posts, I guess it is the same as pinching yourself to alleviate pain elsewhere in the body. I sure hope it passes.

  7. Brenda

    I was worried that one of my 10-month-old twins had a tick. He just started hitting his head with his hand and it’s usually as I am trying to get him to sleep whereas his brother sings himself to sleep.

  8. Stan

    Hi Arlyn, I am a father of 4 and I have dealt with this behavior before. If your baby plays peekaboo with you then you have nothing to worry about. It’s just the babies way of getting attention or their own way.

    Most would probably tell you to gently take the babies hand way and in a polite manner say no no. I disagree. I think the best thing to do is let it pass. Ignore it. The more attention you pay to it, the more your baby will use it to get what he/she wants.

    Remember babies are human and if they notice that something get them what they want then they will continue to use it. It’s a basic instinct of survival.

    If this is your first baby then take my advice and concentrate more on enjoying as much time as you can with your child especially if it’s going to be your last one.

    Hope this helps good luck.

  9. Gabby

    I think is normal my baby started doing that when he was 10 months old. He does it when he’s tired most of the time.

  10. Amy

    I have been searching everywhere to find an answer too… Thank you so much!!! I think my son is getting mad when I cook and he can’t see what I am doing…

  11. kmi

    When our middle child started banging his head into things we were alarmed but dismissed it as being somewhat normal phase, however it was actually the first sign of a disability (adhd and behavioral issues). He would bang his head in anger. Our baby now, 9 months is starting to hit his head too but it’s different, he does it for attention and will laugh normally, or when he doesn’t get his way… but our other son did it deliberate, hard, and repetitive. Like he was doing it for his own reasons and didn’t care about our reactions, the baby does it specifically for a response. You can definitely tell the difference. Hope that helps.

  12. Hi,
    I’d say it is neither good nor bad – just pretty normal toddler behavior. Try to distract him. The behavior is likely to go away if he feels listened too, is distracted and you don’t focus on the behavior – in such case he gets a lot of attention for it and might continue with it longer.

    1. Ivy

      I have a son who turns 3 in less than a month. Up to this point we have had a lot of life changes and we have had a speech delay because of tubes needing to be put in. I can tell he gets frustrated a lot because he can’t get his point across and his tantrums are getting more and more Wild. He will scream when he doesn’t get his way, he doesn’t communicate well with a lot of people. He doesn’t seem to like change but doesn’t throw a temper tantrum over it. I feel like something could be wrong and people look at us like we’re crazy. I don’t know what to do I’ve been told not to worry about autism because he makes good eye contact and is affectionate but I don’t know