Sunday, October 21, 2007

Head Banging Woes - it gets ranty

Rebecca developed a new and unappealing behaviour this past week - head banging. It is extremely distressing to see my 22-month old bang her head into a solid object. Because there have now been a half dozen incidents, I have been able to find the common link. Rebecca bangs her head when she is frustrated because she is not getting her way.
When I have a non-medical problem with Rebecca I do two things. The first is that I call my Mom to see what she has to say. The second is that I research the problem on the internet and find out as much as I can. (If the problem is medical and urgent, I call Telehealth, if non-urgent, I speak to my GP at the earliest convenience).
Unfortunately, neither my sister nor I were head bangers. I don't know about Greg.

This is what I have found out about toddler head banging:
  1. It is common. Apparently it occurs in up to 20 percent of healthy children.
  2. 3-4 times more likely to occur in boys than in girls.
  3. Generally occurs starting after 6 months of age, and usually ends before age 4.
  4. They aren't strong enough to actually hurt themselves in a serious way - they can't cause any neurological or brain damage with the banging.
  5. Their intelligence will not be affected, in fact, there is some evidence that it is linked to increased intelligence (don't know if I buy this factoid - it was just one study with 5oo or so participants and I think that gauging developmental advancement is a bit fuzzy - besides, what would that suggest about the gender disparity in the behaviour???).

Toddlers bang their heads because:
  1. They want attention (because it definitely gets parental attention!)
  2. They want comfort (i.e. to help themselves go to sleep)
  3. They are frustrated or stressed (over or under stimulated, having familial stress, or just having a temper tantrum)
  4. They are in pain (from ear aches or teething).
  5. They enjoy it (apparently some do enjoy it).
  6. They have a developmental problem
What I need to do and remember as a parent:
  1. The more attention the behaviour receives, the more likely it is to persist.
  2. So - that means ignoring it. It means pretending not to notice, not giving her whatever it is she wants, or distracting her with something else.
  3. Do what you can to keep them safe at the same time, and try not to worry (hahaha)

Rebecca knows her own mind. She is very independent and knows exactly what she wants.

Examples of when Rebecca has banged her head:
  1. Crayons: Rebecca's crayons are routinely confiscated due to her tendency to colour the walls (and windows, and floors etc.) Today I returned her crayons, and she coloured in her colouring book. I made a quick trip to the washroom and immediately heard the sound of crayon on wall. I caught her red-handed. I confiscated her crayons and put them on top of the fridge (otherwise she will go to any means to retrieve them). She then cried and banged her head on the fridge, while calling out for her crayons.
  2. 'Vies: Rebecca enjoys watching movies ('vies). Because we don't watch television in our house, we only have DVDs that we have rented or purchased. Rebecca has a few favourites. I let her watch some Winnie the Pooh - she was laughing and enjoying herself, and learning new words (all good things). Unfortunately, the 'vies came to an end, and I removed it from the machine. She kept turning the t.v. back on - hoping to watch more. When I would not play another movie, she banged her head on the tv.
  3. Me: Greg and I had lunch out with Rebecca yesterday. She was quite tired and had been fighting off sleep most of the morning. When I left to go to the washroom, she got upset and banged her head on the table.

Is there something wrong with my Rebaboo?
This is of course, the scary question in the back of my mind.

No, I don't think she's autistic. She has well developed social skills. She points, she follows your gaze, and she has pretend play (such as brushing her hair with my kitchen basting brush). She had all of these behaviours before she was 18 months.
I'll admit to some concern about her speech development. According to my Mom, by the time I was Rebecca's age, I could speak in full sentences. I guess I expected Rebecca would do the same. She has a very broad vocabulary, but speaks - not on command, but when she feels like it. I haven't heard her say a phrase longer than 3 words (unless imitating someone else). It is clear from her ability to follow simple instructions and to make connections between unrelated things, that she is capable of understanding complex concepts. She is also an excellent communicator. And she walked independently at 10 months, so clearly, her neurons can fire correctly. So, I guess I need not worry. Greg is mildly offended that I would even entertain the notion that Rebecca is something other than perfectly normal/wonderful. I actually think she is better with numbers and music than letters - but that may be a bit of a premature assessment on my part. Perhaps I am a little sensitive this weekend because we spent some time with the daughter of friends of ours and (because I am a details person), I have noticed in the last few months, that her speaking abilities are probably way ahead of where Rebecca was at the same age. It made me worry. Also, because I was speaking French to one of my friends at this party, some of the francophone guests assumed I was francophone, and one in particular asked me if Rebecca could speak both languages. I had to sheepishly admit that no, she could not, and I qualified it by saying that even her English was pretty limited right now. She replied by saying that all her children were perfectly bilingual. Good for you stranger - kiss my tourtière! I suppose I *am* contributing to the death by a thousand cuts of half of my culture, by keeping my daughter ignorant. And yes, your bilingual children and superior to mine. While it may not have been a direct criticism, I did feel there was an implicit judgment there. (Also, I am pregnant and consequently hormonal and sensitive). Maybe it is wrong that Rebecca has a few words of Spanish in her vocabulary rather than French. I have certainly made an effort to expose her to French through books and music (including lots of traditional songs), and via speaking to her. I have this icky feeling of somehow neglecting part of Rebecca's heritage when I run into these types of questions. What is my level of responsibility here? I know you can make a child bilingual early if each parent speaks exclusively in one language. But I didn't want to do that. I thought she could pick it up the same way I did - via school, family and books. I am also angry. I have seen someone tear a strip off a close friend because they assumed that she was Lebanese, and when she did not reply to their Arabic queries (because she doesn't speak Arabic), they accused her of denying her culture. People love to judge others!
But what the hell?!?! Rebecca isn't even two years old yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am so glad someone else is going through the head banging like we are! Molly is 19 months old and bangs her head if she doesn't get her way or is just plain mad. My older daughter never did this, so I am at odds with how to deal with this one! She looks so terrible with the little bruises all over the front of her head. Thanks for the reassuring words that she, too, will outgrow this!

Danielle from Oklahoma