How to deal with a child who headbutts everything

Stuart Howard-Cofield
How to deal with a child who headbutts everything
Child Headbutting Floor in Frustration

Does your toddler enter a tantrum sometimes and start to headbutt, like an enraged ram? Do you fear for your own nose, your furniture and of course, your child's head? Don't worry, you are not alone.

Here is my story, of which I was reminded of only last week at a children's football match...

The perfectly executed header is one of the finer sights in football. But while I watched my seven-year-old son Leo leap in the air last weekend to perform that exact manoeuvre, I couldn't stop that worrying thought in the back of my mind: "But heading the ball causes brain damage!"

It wasn't a thought of my own but one spoken in the voice of my wife, who was at home, blissfully unaware of the course of events.

Believe it or not, the fear of him heading a football was not completely irrational.

As a toddler, Leo was a headbanger. Not in a Tom Araya from Slayer sort of way, you understand, but in an "I-can't-get-my-own-way-so-I'm-going-to-do-THIS!!!" sort of way.

Frustrated when trying to take a lid off something? Headbutt the floor. A friend snatches a toy? Headbutt the floor twice. Once he had finally grown out of this alarming behaviour, he has continued to terrorise his horrified parents with numerous falls and bangs to the head as he careers everywhere at his default speed: run.

This behaviour can be extremely upsetting and worrying for parents. However, headbanging, or headbutting, is a surprisingly common occurrence in toddlers.

The very reasons that Leo was doing so are the main factor for most children - frustration. Without the language skills to hand so that they can release their explosive fury at being unable to achieve something, the child throws his head in anger at the nearest object. It could be the floor, a table, a sibling, or you.

Occasionally, you may witness your child banging their head against the cot railings as they try to get to sleep. Again, a common occurrence - your little one is apparently attempting to recreate the rhythmic movements in the womb, rocking themselves to a slumber.

One of the most distressing episodes with our son was when visiting relatives in Spain and the day his head met the hard tiled floor. Repeatedly.

His cousin was not in the mood for sharing with this interloper from abroad, who had entered her world demanding custody of her toys. She vehemently defended her patch, snatching a ball back out of his hands. Leo was distraught.

After a pause and a sharp intake of breath, he dropped to the floor and headbutted it with a loud hollow thwack. More care was taken by him to headbutt a little slower from that day and he did eventually grow out of the behaviour.

In the intervening time, you get to learn the signs and we employed a mixture of tactics depending on the environment:

A carpeted floor - we would try and ignore him. Hard floors - we would always have a cushion ready, just in case. When in our arms - be ready to extend to arms length at a second's notice; and always be ready with a distraction.

The phase will not last forever, usually going away by the age of four. The child recognises pain, so is unlikely to bang their head too hard to cause harm in any event and with the tactics above employed, your child will recognise that the behaviour is not solving anything.

A quick search round the internet shows that there are lots of people dealing with the same issue. The advice is always the same.

Stay calm. Try and ignore the behaviour. Check out the environment around your child and make it safe. Have cot-bumpers, cushions and distractions ready.

If you are still concerned or the behaviour seems excessive - consult your doctor or paediatrician.