Advice for head banging and self injury. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 3 Old 02-29-2012, 09:47 PM - Thread Starter
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I have 16 month old foster/adoptive twins that have been home for 4 months with a 2 month transition period before placement.  I feel like we are out of the initial placement really really really hard transition stuff.  Things aren't always improving like they used to and now we have kind of leveled off into the new normal for them and us.  :)  Many trauma/neglect/multiple placement/abuse/drug exposure issues I feel like we have tools to work with, but I'm at a total loss of what to do with the head banging and self injury.  Our girls are actually very well attached to us, and us to them considering it's only been 6 months, they've just been through hell and back and get angry about stuff ALL day long.  They get super aggressive toward themselves and others when they're mad.  Even if they are on the safest surface they will find a way to bang their head hard into the ground, wall, highchair back, or hit themselves.  One of the girls in particular does it a lot and leaves bruises on herself :(  None of the professionals we're working with now whom I've asked about it have been able offer ideas at all, social workers (agency and county), physical and occupational therapist, early childhood development specials, no advice! I'm not sure if I should ignore it, rescue them, move them, or what.  With hitting we always go up to them and hand over hand with a calm voice do "nice hands" with them to reinforce/rewire what they are supposed to do, but I don't know how to do that with head banging.  I'm also pretty sure that it is not sensory related because of the blatant context and their weekly OT and how in tune we are with their sensory processing difficulties and I know this is not that.   


I would LOVE some advice from someone whose been there done that!


Their birthfather and 5 year old bio brother were over last week for 2 hours and asked about the bruises on one of the girl's head.  I told him (we've had lots of contact with him and are pretty honest) that she bangs her head when she's mad.  He said "Oh, all of (birth mom's) kids have done that."  I told him it's because they were all traumatized.  He said when the bio brother (whose the only one living with him) was 2 he used to do that and it pissed him (birthfather) off so one day he said, if your going to do that I'm going to make it really hurt and I smashed his head (uses hand gestures) into the ground and he never did it again.  Yuck :(  This knowledge certainly gives me even greater compassion for the hurt kids of these birth parents.    


One more thing.  After writing this and thinking to myself about the situations that trigger head banging and anger, it's usually the result of a control issue (I'm not a crazy control freak, they really have legitimate control issues) or separation anxiety related.  Both which are totally understandable for them.  So I know the root is healing over time and deepening of attachment and sharing control by giving choices, but I really need help knowing how to address the specific "right now" behavior of hurting themselves.  It hurts my mother's heart to watch.


Thank you for letting me share and reading my post. :)  

Ashley, Jesus loving mama to Jaden (8) Trace (6) and Liam (3) and fost/adopt twins Talia and Oliva (1).  Happily married for a decade! 

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#2 of 3 Old 03-01-2012, 09:01 AM
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My son was a head banger at that age (before he went into foster care and for a while afterward.) I'm going to check with his Early Head Start teachers to see how they handled it at school but he also was in a simplified version of play therapy while he was there.

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#3 of 3 Old 03-01-2012, 10:45 AM
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My son was a head banger too - turns out it was a sensory thing (vs. self-injurious).  I'd pay close attention to when the child is doing this - keep a list of things leading up to the head banging, how long it lasts and the way she behaves afterwards.  For some children, they do not process sensory input the way other children do.  It's like they are wrapped in bubble wrap and are craving sensory input so desperately that they have to resort to, what appears to us as, self injurious behaviors when they are actually just having to work harder at getting their neurological system to recognize that input.  


You can check out this website for a list of "symptoms" of sensory processing disorder ( and they also have sensory activities you can do with your child(ren) to help redirect their sensory needs to something safer.

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