You probably expected a little bit of aggression as your formerly sweet-tempered infant entered the toddler years.
A 2-year-old recently ended up hitting their mother in the middle of a tantrum at the supermarket when it was her turn to hit her mother.
As a toddler, these kinds of behavior are not uncommon: children often express their emotions in the crudest and direct ways, and laying down the law is their only way of letting their parents know they’re grumpy, tired, hungry, or just plain angry.
Do you know what you should do if your toddler exhibits self-destructive behavior? Your toddler hitting his or her head with his or her own hand or banging their head against a wall is a scary experience.
How do you feel about that, too, or do you have any concerns?
You can help your child stop becoming a solo fighter by understanding why they have turned into a solo fight club. 
What’s causing it
Maybe you’re wondering why your toddler is acting out this way:
Inability to communicate
The only way for your child to tell you what’s going on in his or her head is to hit if they feel big emotions – like anxiety, depression, or anger – but their vocabulary has not caught up yet. It is also very common for people to feel frustrated with themselves for not having the ability to express their feelings, so smacking their own heads is a natural reaction.
Self-soothing or sensory-seeking
The desire for physical stimulation might lead some kids to hit themselves to fulfill the desire. Others may possess a slight dulled sense of pain. Children who feel stressed or exhausted may turn to repetitive physical movements as a way to self-soothe.
It gets a reaction
It’s no secret that toddlers are little narcissists; they appreciate your undivided attention and will do almost anything if you give it to them. They might be doing this to keep getting a rise out of you by repeating the behavior after the first time you went bonkers. (There is no judgment here; most parents would resent their children for hitting their heads.)
Perhaps your child is seeking a positive reaction: Maybe they copied someone else’s behavior, you reacted with laughter, and now they’re seeking another example.
Something is hurting them
as a result of an ear infection or teething. Your child might hit himself to let you know they are hurting.
How you can prevent it
To avoid injury now, you need to find some short-term solutions before you can tackle long-term solutions. Make sure all sharp edges and corners around your child are protected if they are banging their heads regularly.
To stop them from aggravating, wrap your arms around them securely, but not too tightly. . (“A wonderful big bear hug may be pleasurable to sensory seekers.”)
There are some long-term options available to you. The best course of action may be to ignore certain behaviors. Your child will likely stop doing it if they realize it isn’t getting them any more attention if you think they are doing it to get your reaction.
To test whether any of these strategies will stop the behavior, you may want to test them out in other cases.
It is important to understand that your child is trying to communicate to you when they are frustrated, in pain, or seeking sensory input. Take action by following these steps.
Take care of any physical needs
You won’t be able to shape your child’s behavior until you meet their physical needs if they hit themselves because of hunger, thirst, or teething.
Let them know that you want them to let you know if they need anything from you in the future, then provide them with means by which to do so.
Taking note of such patterns is important as well. Then you can take proactive steps to address these needs before they turn into hitting, such as cutting their nappies when wet or skipping snack time.
Teaching your child how to express her anger and frustration at an early age is always a wise decision.
Try to help them vent their frustrations by showing them an appropriate way to hit themselves after their block tower fell over again. If the child is having a difficult time, he or she can stomp in place, hit a pillow or stuffed animal, squeeze themselves, or retreat into a different room.
As a caregiver, you can also teach your child kid-friendly mindfulness techniques – such as deep breathing – so that they can remain calm when they encounter frustration.
Read Also: Activities to develop creativity in children
Embrace what they’re going through
We all want a chance to be heard from time to time, don’t we? Children are also affected by this!
When their parents or caregivers acknowledge that what they’re experiencing is hard, some kids’ big reactions can be diffused quickly.
Besides validating their feelings, it shows them you care about them – and are aware of the difficulties they face.
You can let your toddler know you know when they hit themselves over having cookies for lunch by pointing to them and saying, “I know!” at them. Doesn’t it feel so frustrating, doesn’t it? My lunches would be a lot better with cookies, too!”
In a moment of calm, explain why cookies are bad for lunch – and how they can react more appropriately in the future.
Help them label big feelings
It is difficult for toddlers to recognize how to react to different levels of “bad” emotions (such as anger vs. frustration or fear vs. confusion) because they group feelings into categories with a good/bad denominator.
The more important thing is to give them words to describe the full spectrum of human emotions so they can verbally communicate with you their difficult emotions. It might help you avoid future meltdowns related to communication.
Kids can identify their big feelings online with the help of a variety of resources. Here are some options:
- Feeling posters or flashcards can be printed.
- Picture books designed for toddlers are a great purchase.
- The stuffed animal or doll is used to do role-playing.
- Talk about emotional regulation while watching television (together).
- Your child can learn by modeling how to label his or her own feelings.
Possible reasons to be concerned
There are a few signs that something else may be going on and that you may need professional help if your child exhibits this type of behavior (especially if you give them some new coping skills!).
The following situations may require outside assistance:
- The usual strategies you used to change the behavior didn’t work or it got worse.
- It seems that your child is injuring himself (giving himself bumps, bruises, and scratches).
- Your child seems to have delayed speech or has difficulty hearing you clearly.
- The symptoms of physical illness your child displays include irritability, fatigue, nausea, and fever.
- In addition to the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder, your child may also have symptoms of another developmental disorder.
What is the possibility of autism?
Most likely not.
When your toddler figures out how to communicate with you, self-soothe, or get your attention, she should stop using this particular tactic to gain what she wants.
In addition, your toddler’s development should be viewed positively if everything else is normal.
If this type of behavior isn’t the only symptom you notice in your child, then it may signal a developmental disorder like autism.
The symptoms shared by your child could indicate a broader diagnosis. For example, if he hits himself frequently, struggles with eye contact perform repetitive behaviors, or have trouble speaking, it could indicate autism. 
When to talk to your doctor
Regardless of whether your toddler has exhibited other troubling signs, you should call your pediatrician for advice.
You will likely be asked a lot of questions about your child’s growth and development at the meeting with your doctor and your child. A specialist may refer you to them so that they can evaluate your child more thoroughly. If everything seems fine, they may release you.
You should still contact your child’s doctor even if you haven’t noticed any other symptoms. These professionals see these kinds of behaviors all the time and can predict which are just phases and which are issues that may need further attention.
Consult your child’s doctor if you aren’t certain how to begin.
The bottom line
Children hitting themselves on the head is common in most cases, but not uncommon.
A toddler’s limited communication skills, coupled with low frustration tolerance, make it easy to understand why they might hit themselves to get what they want or express their feelings.
When this behavior is fixed at home, it is usually not a problem; however, if you have any trouble stopping it – or if there are other symptoms you believe indicate a delay or disorder causing the behavior – you should speak to your doctor.