Why do babies hit themselves? My 6-month-old baby girl hits herself… She started hitting her chest and now she hits her mouth and head. I need to know why they do this? Should I worry that something is wrong?
Reasons Why Babies Hit Themselves
It does look pretty strange and sometimes even scary when babies start hitting themselves. But it is a very common behavior, just like biting or banging their heads against the floor. I have seen studies indicating that at least some 20-25 % of all babies and toddlers do this during some period.
Around the age of 6 months, is also mentioned as a common starting point for this behavior, according to Kiran Pure, a child phychologist, who was interviewed in Today’s Parent here. (Opens in new window)
There are many reasons for this behavior:
Anger and frustration
For older babies, frustration and anger are probably common reasons. The young child is simply trying to finds ways to cope with their strong feelings as well as express them since they can’t really express their feeling verbally yet.
This is very true for toddlers, who often want to so much and become devastated when they are not able or allowed to achieve what they want.
Pain-relief is another known reason for hitting. If your baby consistently hits one side of her head, for example, you may want to exclude an ear infection.
Teething is a common reason for biting, which is a related behavior.
Your baby is probably still a little bit too young for the hitting being related to pain-relief, but over time, it can be an important clue.
Hitting as self-soothing can also occur when a baby or toddler is either tired, lonely or understimulated. You can read here about a baby that hit her head when tired.
This is actually common and if you suspect understimulation as a reason for your baby hitting herself, then try to activate her! You’ll find some suggested games to play with 6-month-old babies here.
For young babies, like your girl, even the fact that they CAN hit themselves can sometimes be the only reason for doing it. They are gaining control of their body and might actually find it interesting or entertaining to slap their tummy for example.
Babies tend to shake their heads or bodies for the same reason, and in this case, it ies even seens as a step in the process of learning to sit up!
When Does the Hitting Stop?
Except for pure pain-relief, the behavior can last for a long time. My youngest started hitting himself and biting his hand when angry at around 8 months and continued until almost 3 years old.
He is a textbook example of normal babies hitting themselves – most babies start doing this at some point between 6 and 12 months old.
The behavior tends to peak at around 18 to 24 months – a period when many babies are going through rapid mental development and have big problems dealing with their own frustrations. (It isn’t called the “terrible twos” for nothing.)
While some babies hit themselves during a couple of months only, others go on for years. Most babies grow out of it at around 3 years old if not earlier.
What To Do When Babies Hit Themselves
First of all, you, of course, need to track down why your baby is hitting herself. Make sure to exclude illness, such as an ear infection or a sore throat or teething.
If it obvious that the hitting is not pain related, then see if you can find a pattern of when this is more likely to occur.
Does your baby tend to hit herself when she is tired, hungry, understimulated, in need of a cuddle or attention? If you can find a pattern, then try to adjust the routines around that situation to reduce the risk of your baby becoming so upset.
When your baby hits her head, remember that distraction is the best way to stop unwanted behavior until your baby is well over 2 years old and has started to understand the spoken language really well. Try to make her focus on something more enjoyable than hitting!
Something to remember is to not reinforce the behavior. If your baby always gets a lot of attention when hitting, he or she may do it even more. So don’t make a big fuss about it. Just make sure your baby doesn’t hurt herself.
Finally, you should be aware that headbanging and other ways of hitting themselves can in rare cases be a sign of developmental issues. But in such a case, there will be other signs as well, as for example falling behind several milestones or losing abilities he used to have.
Extremely frequent head-banging, like throughout the day and continued even if it clearly hurts can also be signs of concern.
And you can also watch this video, which shows very clear example of Autism related behaviors including head banging.
If you are concerned, of course, discuss the matter with your baby’s pediatrician.
More About Babies Hitting Themselves
And finally, a great reference book for babies’ and young children’s health issues, check out Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 by the American Academy Of Pediatrics.
I hope this helps,
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Baby Development Q&A.