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My Two-Year Old is a Punk Rocker??

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Biology 103
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

My Two-Year Old is a Punk Rocker??

Margaret Hoyt

Although slightly uncommon, it is still possible for toddlers to exhibit actions similar to what one may find at a rock concert: head banging. For a multitude of different reasons, head banging can develop into a habit for young children and can even last for a few years. This striking behavior usually does not result in any permanent injury or damage to the child. Rarely does a child banging her head against the wall, crib, pillow, or other object signify a serious condition or disease. However, there are a few other reasons behind head banging other than the child's future career in the music business.

Up to 20% of healthy children can be found head banging (1). The behavior begins sometime within the first year and can last for a few years afterwards. However, most sources recommend seeing a Doctor if the behavior continues past the age of 4. Head banging can occur at several different times: at sleepy times, during tantrums, and even throughout the night (1). Children can also just randomly start, without any apparent provocation or reason. Because children do not have to be in a certain location for the head banging to start, heads can be hit against any type of material. Walls, cribs, pillows, and floors are the most common surfaces. At times, children can wake up with a headache, develop nasal problems, or have an ear infection as a result of the repeated banging (4). Other consequences include a temporary bald spot in the location of the banging (2). Toddler's heads have adapted for the normal bumps and bruises associated with learning to walk and climb, thereby preventing the more serious head trauma (1).

Although head banging usually is not considered very serious or worthy of medical attention, it does have a clinical classification as Movement Disorder or Rhythmic Disorder. Movements classified under this disorder seem to occur especially during the transition between the state of wakefulness and sleep, as well as the different stages of sleep (4). The disorder contains other behaviors such as head rocking, body rocking, folding, and shuttling (4). Experts speculate reasons for the actions stems for the need of rhythmic stimulation: to help fall asleep, during a tantrum, if under-stimulated or even if over-stimulated. Because children are constantly rocked in utero, once outside the womb, the still look for similar rhythmic movements (1). Children's propensity towards jumping rope, swinging, bumper cars, and dancing can be attributed to this theory (1). Other explanations behind the head banging are the rhythmic sensation it ensues, visual movement it can provide, release of inner tensions, or boredom/frustration when the child cannot sleep (2). Ear infections or teething can be added causes for the excessive movement (1). Most experts encourage parents to ignore the behavior, as it will subside in a few years (2).

In few very cases, ignoring Rhythmic Disorder can be a mistake. The excessive head banging and body rocking can be an early sign of Autism, a neurological disorder (5). Although children who are thought to have Autism exhibit other symptoms that normal head bangers do not. Behavior such as rocking, nail biting, self-biting, hitting own body, handshaking, or waving, in addition to the head banging, can be signs of Autism (5). Autism inhibits a person's "ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the environment," (6). Because symptoms of Autism are relatively easy to recognize and usually include more than one behavioral symptom, most doctors and parents are able to quickly decipher if their child has a serious condition.

Medical Experts also rarely equate Rhythmic Disorder with psychological disorders, (4). Since there is little threat of a child's behavior signifying something significant, ignoring the behavior really is the best thing to do. Because ignoring the head banging sometimes can be difficult, a plethora of suggestions exist on the web. One site indicates music therapy, hypnotism, motion-sickness medications, tranquilizers, or stimulants would help both the child and the parent (4). More conservative approaches include placing a metronome by the child's bed (3). Hopefully, the child will recognize a strong beat and will not feel the need to duplicate it. Parents can move the bed away from the wall, add cushioning to the crib, or carpet the floor in order to decrease the noise. One drug, Naltrexone, has had some success in treating children with Rhythmic disorder, although only preliminary research has been completed at this current time (5).

Little is known about the causes behind Rhythmic Disorder. A few studies have indicated that the head banging stimulates the Vestibular system in the inner ear, which controls balance (3). Another unrelated study shows that children who exhibit this kind of behavior were more advanced as compared to their peers (1). The few reports and studies of Rhythmic Disorder published often illustrate that not much is known about this behavior. As with most areas of health, this Disorder requires further study. However, information shows that the Disorder does not indicate a serious problem. In the case of Autism, other symptoms persist and doctors are able to diagnose the condition with ease. So maybe your head-banging child may grow up to worship Nine Inch Nails, but the possibility of her continuing a healthy maturation process is even more likely.



1) Dr. : Caring for the Next Future , Featured Article, "Head Banging."

2) – A World of Information , "Head Banging by Children" by James Windell.

3) American Academy of Pediatrics website , "Guide to Your Child's Symptoms: Rocking/Head Banging."

4) Kid's Help for Parents website , Sleep Problems

5) MEDLINE Plus Health Information , Stereotypic Movement Disorder.

6) National Institute of Mental Health website , "What is Autism?"



Comments made prior to 2007

I body rock and i am 28 years old and perfectly healthy. I have a postgraduate degree so i am not retarded and i am not autistic. I always wondered why i body rock though! ... Star, 11 December 2006


Anonymous's picture

Good to know it's not that unusual

I started off banging my head against the pillow, or sometimes the wall. my Mom thinks i started when I was only a few months old. I then started rocking from side to side. Sometimes to music. I remember it being comforting and it continued consistently into my late teens. Now i still do it from time to time (I'm 28) and only just thought to find out if it meant something was wrong with me. I'm pretty sure I'm not autistic either. I'm a young attorney made the 99th Percentile in my English SATs and close in my Math. I am very curious about whether it has a deeper cause or meaning.

Anonymous's picture

body rocking

My 3yr old son is a "body rocker". He has been doing it since he was a little baby. To go along with the "body rocking", he also moans rythmitically along with the "body rocking" and he does this numerous times during the night. It appears that he does the "moaning body rocking" to sooth himself back to sleep, however it's very loud and so wakes myself and my husband up every time he does it during the night. What should I do?

Anonymous's picture

Head Banging

I am 19 years old and i have been banging since i was one. It drives my family crazy but i cant help it. When i am bored i do it, i find myself trying to find time to do it also. It is my get away. I have no serious health problems. I do suffer from anxiety and depression and banging my head does help me calm down but that is not the only time that i do it. I cant spend the night with other people because i cannot get to sleep any other way. I dont just rock my head in my pillow either, i physically hurt myself and smack my head on the head board until i bleed. I dont know what to do. I have tried sleeping pills to knock me out but it doesnt help. I would keep myself awake to do it. I dont know what to do, it is running my life and no one knows what to tell me.

Julia's picture

you are not alone

Guess what, you are not alone. My parents always worried about me growing up as a child:I was beating my head against the pillow while i was sleeping. I am 29 now. I don't beat the head anymore, but i still rock myself asleep.Or , when i am bored i slightly rock my body .Just like you i did not have any learning disabilities.I have degree as a concert pianist, English is my third language and i am definetely not autistic. but nobody ever explained to me or my parents why i am rocking.

Jamie's picture

i am 20, going to college

i am 20, going to college and get really good grades. i also rock my body back and forth to fall asleep, as well as when i'm bored and no one is around. ive been doing this since i was a baby. im not autistic or have any mental retardations. i always wondered why, good to know i'm not alone.