Q: Our 19-month-old is a very active little boy who flips out when things do not go his way. When he has a tantrum, we walk away or simply ignore him. Nonetheless, he will scream and flail about and has recently begun to bang his head on the floor, walls, doors, furniture, whatever. Is this typical of very strong-willed toddlers and will he eventually grow out of it, or is it something we need to discipline?
A: One of my graduate school professors was of the opinion that all toddlers are psychotic. By the time I took his class, I was the father of a 2-year-old and agreed with his hypothesis.
Indeed, full-blown rages are not uncommon at this age and some kids, for inexplicable reasons, emphasize their displeasure by banging their heads on floors, walls and furniture, which is why God designed the human skull such that it doesn’t begin to harden until age 3.
The problem is not that some toddlers bang their heads. A pediatrician friend of mine did a search and was unable to find a record of an otherwise “normal” toddler (e.g., your son) incurring significant damage from head-banging. Bruises on the forehead are about as bad as it gets.
The problem is some parents freak out over head-banging. Toddlers are highly intuitive little people. When they discover that head-banging gets their parents’ attention and, furthermore, that it obviously upsets them, they bang with even more enthusiasm. Toddlers are also very mischievous little people.
My fail-safe solution (at least, I’ve never been informed of a failure): Draw a circle on a wall with some substance that can be removed later — washable crayon, maybe. Make sure the circle is between two studs and not on top of a stud (think, nail heads). Take your son over to the circle.
Say, “We told your doctor how much you like banging your head on things. He said that when you feel like banging your head, you should bang it here! This is your new and very special head-banging place!” You should, of course, demonstrate the proper technique as you explain the new “rule” to him.
From that point on, whenever he begins to bang his head, simply take him to the circle and say, “No, no, no. Bang here! You can bang here all you want! Yes, yes, this is a lovely place to bang your head on!”
Then, walk away, preferably into another room. If my experience — including testimonies from many parents who have used this same ruse — serves me well, the banging will stop within a week or so. This is much less expensive that rubberizing all the walls and floors in your house.