Head Banging in Newly Adopted Children

Q: What advice would you and your experts give on dealing with head banging in a recent 18 month old male adoptee from China?

A: First, I need to make clear that I’m not a psychologist, so keep that in mind. Head banging can mean any number of things and is often a way of expressing intense frustration. It is easy as an adoptive parent to underestimate the total upheaval that adoption represents in a child’s life. We are able to see the big picture and realize that this is likely the best option for this child. We know that as time goes on, our child will adjust and that his life will likely be better due to being adopted. The adoption is the fulfillment of our dream. But, it is almost certainly not your son’s dream. He doesn’t see the big picture. All he sees is that nothing looks like, smells like, or sounds like what he is used to. This has got to be a terrifying place for him to be. He doesn’t have the language to express himself. Truth be told, even children who are proficient in their native language, or even in English, would have a hard time expressing something so profoundly confusing and scary. Banging his head is one of the few ways he has to express himself. It is one of the few things he has control over right now.

My advice is to simplify your life. Reduce your expectations of what you will get done. Create predictable routines throughout your day, so your son will be able to anticipate what is coming next. Spend time getting to know your son. Play games with him. Just be with him. Try to anticipate his needs and quickly and consistently meet them. If you don’t see him improving after a few weeks, consider getting help for you to help him adjust.

Head banging is sometimes a habit formed by children in institutionalized care. Kids need stimulation. In a home environment, stimulation comes from interacting with their parents and their environment. In many orphanages, this type of stimulation isn’t available and kids turn to self stimulation, like head banging.


Image credit: oenvoyage