‘Our two-year-old son keeps banging his head when he’s angry’

John Sharry: It is important to take action to interupt this behaviour

Question: When our two-year-old toddler gets angry or frustrated, he bangs his head on whatever is nearest – wall, door, floor! Our GP said this is normal and the toddler will grow out of it (he's meeting all his milestones and we're not worried in any way, other than finding it distressing when he does this).

What do we do when this is happening? Do we ignore it or address it?

Answer: It is normal for two-year-olds to become overwhelmed by feelings of frustration and anger which result in intense tantrums which are challenging to deal with. They don't call it the terrible twos for nothing! Sometimes, these tantrums result in head banging or hitting out and other behaviours which you can't simply ignore and which you have to protect your toddler from. Below are some helpful ways you can respond.

1) Try to anticipate when he is about to bang his head and then "get in early" to divert him. For example, you might notice his rising frustration and then say "You sound very cross. Come here for a cuddle". When frustrated some toddlers can be soothed with a hug and reassuring words, others prefer to have some space in a safe place with you near by to help them calm down.


2) If your son does start to bang his head, it is important to take action to interrupt this behaviour. Maybe gently take him by the hand and say "come over here, sweetheart… it is all going to be okay". The fact that he opts to bang his head as a means of managing frustration suggests he needs some physical feedback to help him cope. You can consider holding him in a firm but gentle hug in help him but bear in mind that if the anger is directed at you, sometimes this can cause him to hit out. In these cases consider redirecting to safer physical activities away from you such as "lets give this cushion a big squeeze" or "lets shake all this frustration away" or "lets go out in the garden for a walk" etc.

3) If possible, identify a safe relaxing place in the room he can go when in the middle of a tantrum to calm down. This might be a nice sofa with plenty of cushions, where you can be with him (but not in his face if he needs space). If the tantrums happen outside the home in public, you may have to pick him up and take him somewhere quieter where he is not getting too much public attention. Take time to think through a step-by-step action plan that allows you to get through these challenging situations calmly.

4) In the long term, you want to also teach him better ways of communicating his intense feelings. You can help him by naming these feelings and identifying strategies he can use – "you sound very cross… use your words to tell me your feeling' or 'shhs now, I know you are upset.. lets calm down... it is all okay".

- John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He will be presenting a workshop on 'Helping Your Children and Teenagers Bounce Back after Covid' on June 14th. See solutiontalk.ie