Q: Our first child, a 10-month-old boy, bangs his head on the headboard of his crib when we put him to bed. He doesn’t cry or exhibit any distress, but he pushes himself to his hands and knees and then begins rocking forward and backward, banging his head in the process. I’m very worried, although in all other respects, he acts normally. Is this something I should tell his doctor about? Can it be stopped, and if so, how?
A: I’m not the least bit concerned about your son, but I think you may have come down with a moderate case of first-time parent over-interpretation of anything that seems even slightly off the norm syndrome. Unless dealt with successfully in its early stages, this syndrome can and will worsen over time and ultimately dooms parents to 18 or more years of anguish over one insignificant thing after another. Needless to say, the child in question is no happier being the object of constant, and mostly needless, parental anxiety.
Indeed, head-banging is associated with certain profound forms of mental and emotional disability, but otherwise happy, healthy infants have been known to gently “bang” their heads as a means of relaxation. What your son is doing to put himself to sleep is a form of what’s called “non-pathological head-banging.” Consider it the physical equivalent of counting sheep. He gets up on his hands and knees facing the crib headboard, begins rocking rhythmically back-and-forth, gently banging his head in the process, and in short order, he’s fast asleep. He should certainly be allowed to keep on rockin’ in the free world. As for you, I prescribe a week-long Caribbean vacation.
Q: When I give my 5-year-old daughter an instruction of some sort or other, she does what I tell her to do, but not without some amount of “lip.” She’ll mutter under her breath (but I can usually hear what she’s saying) things like “stupid,” or she’ll tell me I’m “mean” and then stomp off and do whatever it is I told her to do, usually a chore. Should I punish her for these outbursts? If so, how?
A: Exasperated outbursts of this sort fall into two categories: there are those that accompany belligerent and defiant disobedience, and there are those that don’t. Your daughter’s outbursts definitely fall into the second, more rare, category. She vents, but she obeys. Aren’t you the fortunate one?
My standard recommendation concerning this second category borrows from one of great-grandma’s parenting aphorisms: leave well enough alone. The important thing is that your daughter obeys. Yes, her venting is a tad disrespectful, but if you make that an issue, you could quickly find yourself in a power struggle with a child who is becoming both more disrespectful and increasingly defiant.
You don’t want to push this downhill, so take great-granny’s advice: ignore your daughter’s outbursts. My prediction is that if you pay them no mind, they will gradually fade away.
A psychologist, Rosemond answers questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.