37 answers

Toddler Displays Strange Behavior

Hi Moms, I have been growing increasingly more worried about various aspects of my 15 month old's behavior.

1. For a couple of months, whenever he wants our attention or doesn't get what he wants or if we tell him no, he bangs his head against the nearest surface. It could be the wall, floor, fridge, something he is holding, literally anything. I keep telling myself it's just because he is a toddler, but it is so disturbing, I want to make sure.

2. He hits himself with random objects. He picks things up and whacks them against his head. This isn't always when he's mad- sometimes it seems random.

3. When he's angry he throws his head back forcefully. This means he hits his head quite often. We both try to anticipate when he's going to do it and try and stop him banging his head, but sometimes they just come out of nowhere.

4. He is soooooo clingy to me. Only the last few months has he wanted to go to his Daddy for cuddles, but mostly it's me. I love holding him, etc. but I have to leave for a couple of hours a day to go to class and he sobs so loudly I can hear him outside once I've closed the door. And it's his Daddy who watches him, not a stranger!

5. He is so violent. When I tell him no, he smacks my face, pulls my glasses off and throws them on the floor, pokes my eyes, pulls my ears. He also headbutts me. And he usually does all of these, not just one or two.

He doesn't speak yet, so maybe he is really frustrated at not being able to get his message across? We try really hard to understand what he wants, but obviously can't always figure it out. Any help would be much appreciated!

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thanks everyone for your varied advice. Though some things we already do, others are some new ideas or new things to look into and so we are implementing some changes!

Featured Answers

Hi Roseanna,

My son hits himself in the head too. I have notice it is for attention. When he does it he looks at me to see my reaction. I have started to ignore it and he has not done it has much. As for hitting you I would defiantly have some sort of punishment for that! Don't worry about autisim sounds other Mothers are trying to scare you. My son is almost 18 months and says about 10 words. That is pretty normal for their age.


Most of this behavoir is normal. Most little one when they get mad or dont get their way hit someone, thing or themselves. All of mine did it. This is also the age that they go through seperation anxiety. This is also normal. After a while it will be easier. Just have patience and be firm with him and he will learn. Good luck.

Honey I've 5 children and I can tell you this IS NOT "normal" behavior.. it sounds like autism to me. If you vaccinate, this is a high probability. I'd look into it if I were you.

Just my 2cents.

More Answers

I know exactly what your going through. My 16month old son does the same thing. He's not as bad as what your describing, but he does hit himself in the face. I found that If I ignore it and redirect his attention he stops the dehavior. It doesnt work all the time, but it seems he is just trying to get my attention or let me know hes just mad. I see a small change in him as he is getting older and communicating. My doc says it could be just frustration in not being able to talk and get his way, who knows. Just know, it wont last forever, so I hear.

1 mom found this helpful

I have two things I would like to respond to. I work in public health, and the link between autism and vaccines is a topic I have been interested in for about 10 years. One study was published about 10 years ago showing a potential link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Many, many studies have been published since then that disprove this link. In fact, the issue is considered closed as far as science goes. It CAN hurt your child to wait to give them their vaccines. There is a medical reason they are given at specific ages. Even the argument that mercury was used in the vaccines is irrelevant now, they have not used mercury since 1999 (and cases of autism have not declined as a result).

As far as the head-banging behavior, I would ignore it. I am pregnant with my first child, but I taught an infant and toddler class for several years when I was younger. While every kid does not display this kind of behavior, all kids do something weird. ANY reaction, positive or negative, will reinforce the behavior, so just ignore it. This is difficult advice for parents to take, but it works with all people (including my husband). I would not allow your chld to hit you. Getting up and walking away is the perfect punishment at that age. Especially if they are clinging to you. This will correct the bahvior much faster than time out or spankings, especially since your son is so young. They don't really understand things like time out at that age, and they may not relate the spanking to their behavior.

I taught my students sign language. I don't know that many signs, but we taught them things they needed to communicate. They learned "hungry" "more" "thank you" "please" "down" etc. This helped them communicate, learn language, and learn to be polite. At 8-9 months they could sign, and around 13-15 months they would learn to speak. Even the two-year olds would often do both.

Good luck, I know this is trying. Be patient and loving, and never react in anger.

1 mom found this helpful

Dear Roseanna,

Don't panic. Have him evaluated. I have a friend who's son does the same things. Banging the head. Violent outbursts. Throwing things, anything. Rocking while watching TV. Clingy with his dad and won't leave when he is home, to the point where he won't come play with his best friend (my daughter). Maybe you have a friend in the psych department who can help you, but don't rule out that he is mildly autistic. Start reading up on it. There are so many levels of it. If he is,this doesn't mean he is stupid or retarded. It just means that you'll have to understand him well to know how to parent him better. You'd be surprised who you know that is slightly autistic. He might not be at all, but what does it hurt to find out right? I have three kids, 12, 5, 2. So far, the first has been diagnosed with ADHD. I found out after I noticed different behavior when doing homework. I picked up a book, then asked her pediatrician. As a new parent, you learn as you go, especially when you have more than one. The first child is an experiment!

D. in Edgewater


I have a B.A. degree in psychology and whereas I don't practice in the field, I am familiar with disorders. I want to tell you not to panic when these other mothers/mothers to be tell you to get him checked out for Autism. It is a good idea to, because his behavior could indicate it, but on the other hand, it could also be just behavior that he has discovered gets him attention.

My suggestion would be to, when possible and when it won't endanger him, allow him to do what he is doing without reacting. I know that is much harder to do than to say, however, every time you respond to that sort of behavior, it reinforces him to do it. You tell him no, he bangs his head, you will allow him to do it just so he will stop banging his head. This sends him the signal that all he has to do is start hurting himself and you will cave in to his wish. So...make the environment as safe as possible, remove all the hard things that he would hit himself with and replace or cover them with something soft. You can even go so far as to staple bedding foam to the walls at his height for a period of time so that when he bangs his head against them, it won't hurt him, or make him a wear a helmet. That way you can safely allow him to do his behavior and give him no reaction. Once he figures that this isn't getting him what he wants, he will stop and find something else to do to get his way. If you do this, expect the head banging and hitting to increase for a small while. As long as it is safe for him, then you can ignore it.

As for the violence to you...when he does this, pick him up, and put him in his room, or make a baby-pin with the free-standing baby gates, or if he is still in a crib, put him there, and then walk away until his temper tantrum is done. Once he quiets down, you can then go back in and take care of him. If he starts throwing a tantrum again when he sees you, walk out of the room again until he calms down. He will eventually get the picture that this is unacceptable and that if he wants attention from Mommy, that he needs to behave himself.

Make sure the space you put him in is safe for him. I stress that more than anything with this method. If it is a situation where he can really cause himself injury, you, of course, can't pretend that he isn't doing anything. But if it is a place with a lot of padding, that you know he can't hurt himself in, then it is ok to walk away and let him scream and cry. It will be hard on YOU, because you will want to go and make it all better for him...but every time you do that, you reinforce to him that this kind of behavior is acceptable and that he can always get what he wants.

I am not a mother yet, but I helped raise my now 14 year old nephew for the first 6 years of his life, and he was NOT an easy child. He was also prone to violence as a toddler..to himself and to others. One thing I used to do with him when he started that was to pull him into my lap and hold him down until he calmed down. He was not allowed to get up until he was calm and behaving. I knew that in my lap, he was not going to get hurt and I could control how he tried to hurt me. I caution against this though, because your son may come to view your lap as a negative place and not want to cuddle with you. I didn't have that problem too much with my nephew, but it is a possible side effect. So, I suggest making a safe, cushiony, soft place for him to go to time-out when he starts acting up. Someplace that you can feel secure in leaving him in and walking away for awhile.

And do mention the behavior to your pediatrician and have him checked out. It is better to rule out biological reasons for behavior, then to ignore the possibility and have to come face to face with it later.

I am a mother of a daughter age 3 and a son age 13 months. I would say that some of this behavior is normal but I would be more concerned about why he's not talking yet. I would certainly be letting your pediatrician know. It may be signs of autism. Of course I'm not a doctor but if it is autism the earlier you detect it the better care you can get for your son.
Good luck,
A. C.

Has your son been evaluated for autistic spectrum disorders. From what I have heard his behavior may be related to that.


Hi Roseanna,

My son hits himself in the head too. I have notice it is for attention. When he does it he looks at me to see my reaction. I have started to ignore it and he has not done it has much. As for hitting you I would defiantly have some sort of punishment for that! Don't worry about autisim sounds other Mothers are trying to scare you. My son is almost 18 months and says about 10 words. That is pretty normal for their age.

Hi R.,
I saw this for the first time today and I wanted to respond even though it has been a while since your request was entered.
My nephew (whome I helped raise) also had these hurting himself issues. Later on my seacond son has actually had these similar issues but not as extreme as it sounds with your son or my nephew. Which both here on my side have night tares also. They twitch in their slept, never really rest.
Colton is now 12 and a wonderful young man. Smart, kind, gentle spirited, popular, great at all sports and by all means one of the best looking kids on this planet.
He would be so sweet and loving one minute and any little thing would set him off. First off, make sure to be aware of what is on TV while he is watching and also if your husband is like mine he will watch UFC etc without even checking to see if the children are watching or not. Time out is what I have read on some of these responces... If he is like Colton then sending him to time out or a chair can result in thrush slinging abouts that can harm him even more. We took Colton to a therapist at 13 months and they suggested holding timeout. The first few times we ever tried this we would actually have to go for a time out after for ourselves. It is emotionally draining to hold your child or a child you love in you lap on a chair with your hand firmly wrapped around their body not allowing them to get down. Time is not what you use in this method. It is after the tantrum has stopped that they are exhausted you then turn them to you and tell them you love them and everything is going to be ok. Ask him if someone hurt him to make him so angry or if he is sad, mad, etc. You will take a physical beating in doing this. so if you talk to your doctor and this method is one you would both agree on, then be prepard for a physical and emotional work out. By the time the 2nd week rolled around he was already showing major signs of getting better. We also bought a little stand up punching bag and tiny gloves for him to beat out his frustrations on something other than himself. You can even make a family game out of it. Mom and Dad punching it releasing showing how to get his feelings out.

Matter of fact. I am Colton's favorite aunt. I always have been. But he would get so irrate that he would try to kick me in the middle of tantrums while I was pregnant. He still has an outbrust ever now and again but we just set him down talk and let him crry it out with us to help him threw. We used holding time out with my son as soon as he started and he stopped within a week of hurting himself.

Another way to distract them at such a young age would be insted of yelling out don't do that to yourself. We have alwasys been very fun loving, playful, but also strict... Run over grab him and tickle him while kissing his face and he will release some of that energy into his laughter instead of negative violance.

I do not think anything is wrong with your son. But, that is where a doctor comes into play. Some little ones just don't know how to express themselves. But, you need to nip it in the bud asap since blows to the head are very dangerous.

Best of luck and email if you ever need someone to talk to.

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