Why do babies hit themselves? My 6-month-old baby girl hits herself… Started hitting 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% of all babies do this during some period.
There are many reasons for this behavior:
- For older babies frustration and anger are probably common reasons.
- Self-soothing and pain-relief are other known reasons for hitting. If your baby consistently hits one side of her head, for example, you may want to exclude an ear infection. Teething is common reason for biting, which is a related behavior.
- For young babies, 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.
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 only hit themselves during a couple of months, 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
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.
Try to see what is behind the behavior and focus on that. Is your baby in pain, angry, in need of a cuddle or stimulation and attention? 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.
Finally, you should be aware that head banging and other ways of hitting themselves can in rare cases be a sign of developmental issues. But in such 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. You can read about warning signs of autism here.
If you are concerned, of course, discuss the matter with your baby’s pediatrician.
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