4yo so stressed-bangs head

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-17-2008
4yo so stressed-bangs head
Mon, 08-18-2008 - 12:15am

My four year old nephew worries me everyday. He and his dad (my brother) live with my mom and me right now. Occasionally he spends the night with his mom, but this is rare. He still sees her every morning though and I think this confuses him. In his short little life, he has moved around so much and been in so many different situations with many combinations of various family members, its no wonder he is so stressed out all the time.

I watch him everyday and when I am with him, I notice a lot of strange things about him. He bangs his head REALLY hard against everything (chairs he is sitting in, walls he is leaning against, even my body when he is on my lap). He's been doing this most of his life and no one knows how to stop him, because if they try, he looks so distressed and will hit you, scratch you, and throw a tantrum so big to let you know that he is serious. He pulls out all the tricks that he ever gets in trouble for, like swearing and screaming as loud as he can, and finally when he's exhausted everything, he will just look at me with this expression on his face, so tired and sad, and say "I need bang."

He can't keep banging his head. It's not healthy for him mentally, nor physically (brain damage could happen, not mention he gets headaches all the time from it), and also we live in an apartment and he wakes up at 5:30 or 6 every morning and bangs his head on the wall until his dad comes home from work (around eight am). It's so loud it wakes up the neighbors. I feel awful trying to stop him, because it is the only thing that makes him feel better, it seems.

I've tried talking to him about it, but he really doesn't listen when he is in that mood. Distracting him doesn't work, maybe for a few minutes, but he just gets frustrated with whatever he's doing and goes and finds a wall. We've taken to just putting a pillow behind his head, and he hates that, he'll just throw it.

Lately it seems his stress has been affecting him all day, too. He never wants to do anything and gets angry when he doesn't learn something right away or can't do something with only the minimal effort he puts into it. He has no interest in reading- AT ALL, or even watching television, or playing with blocks. Because of this, he was slow to learn his letters, numbers, shapes and things, but he's picked them up pretty quick because we just talk about them all the time, and I mean ALL the time. "What shape is that? what letter is that?" He's getting it. He's a pretty smart kid. He just doesn't want to do the things that will help him. I've never met a child that doesn't want to sit down with a book and be read to, but he just hates it!

The only thing he ever wants to do is go outside, and he will repeat this request, rain or shine, all day, every day. At least every two minutes he will ask to be taken outside or to the playground. If he can't do that, he will simply sit in a chair, bang his head, and ask about it. He never wants to play on his own, either. He always just wants to talk to adults or show us stuff over and over, which is cool, but the kid needs to sit down and color sometimes! It's good for him to learn a little independence (he knows how to dress himself but refuses, preferring to walk around naked carrying his shirt and whining "put on!")

Anyway, when he does go outside, he only wants to push his little tricycle around, not ride it and not do anything else. Just push it around. I think he is pretending to drive a car? He always says "I drive to work. Going to store. Buy apple juice and soap." He is obsessed with cars. I mean obsessed to the point that I am writing on a message board asking for advice on it. I think its great that he has such a keen interest in something (perhaps he will grow up to be a physicist or engineer lol) but I swear to you that is all he thinks about.

I have AS and I think its possible he might, too, which would explain the obsession, but honestly, when he was in daycare, his social skills were fine. I really think it is just related to stress. Either way, there has to be a way to de-stress this little guy. He has so much potential to be a happy kid. Today he was outside all day long and at dinner he laughed in a way I had never heard before. It was just so happy it made me almost cry. I want him to be like that as often as possible, but I am at my wits end. I can't take him outside all day everyday and let him push his bike around for that long! So what do I do? Any suggestions? Anything at all is helpful, really.

(also, part B: He has learned some pretty bad habits from his mom and dad like swearing and not cleaning up after himself. He doesn't understand why these things are bad because mommy and daddy do it. I don't want to say anything bad about his parents to him or confuse him any more, but he needs to learn these things for school. Any advice on that?)

Thank you so much in advance!

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-19-2003
Mon, 08-18-2008 - 3:29pm

Allie, I'm thinking about this and what could help him.

Has he been to the ped. recently? Has his parents talked to a doctor about his headbanging? It is something that a lot of kids do so that in it self is not alarming, its the fact that it seems to be constant and giving him headaches that has me a bit concerned. I'm not sure how you can get him to stop. He eventually gets what he wants -- his dad comes home, he gets to go outside even if its hours later -- so that might explain why he doesn't stop, or doesn't stop for long. He could have associated banging his head with getting what he wants so he is going to outlast you (or at least try).

You said he was better when he was at daycare, maybe he needs to go back. He might need the consistency/constant that daycare or preschool offers.

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-04-2007
Tue, 08-19-2008 - 1:25am

Wow ... I am so sorry to hear about the issues your nephew is having.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-25-2005
Tue, 08-19-2008 - 11:03pm

With autism in the family (with you having AS -- I assume the AS meant Asperger's), there's a good chance that your nephew could have an autism spectrum disorder, too. Even if not autism, there are certainly behaviors you've described that would warrant being examined by your county's early intervention program (your pediatrician ought to be able to give you a contact phone number), or a developmental pediatrician or neuropsychologist.

It appears that your nephew does well with heavy sensory input (head banging & playing outside). If you can find him some positive sensory input to substitute for the head banging, that might help him. The ladies at the PDD/Asperger's board are better with ideas than I am, but here are a few things I could think of.

You could try having him jump on a mini-trampoline (or the bed), have him drag ("drive") canned goods around the house in a bag/box/blanket/whatever, or use one of those hopper balls to sit on and jump around. Some children do well with a weighted vest. You could add weights to your nephew's clothing to see if that helped him (put pennies in his pocket, put rice in a baggie in a sock tied to his waist, etc). Since he likes pushing his tricycle around, could he do that in the house if you're not able to go outside?

Instead of stacking light-weight blocks, let him stack cans of food from the pantry. Kneading playdoh is fun and uses muscles. Another activity my kids liked was when I took packing tape and taped down longs strips sticky-side-up on the floor (or you could get a big piece of shelf paper or contact paper and tape it sticky-side up on the floor). My kids enjoyed the sensation of walking across it or putting their hands on it.

Here's a link to some other ideas. For heavy sensory input, look more at the proprioceptive ideas, but all of them are good: http://www.coping.org/intervention/sensory/sensintegact.htm#Proprioceptive

When your nephew's really stressed, would he like a "cave" to crawl into for quiet and security? He could crawl under his bed or use a closet or cardboard box with blanket/pillow.

Two of my kids have AS. Their social skills were not a problem when they were younger, so the fact that your nephew did fine socially in daycare may or may not mean anything. One thing that may have been good for him in daycare is the order and predictability that may have existed. Can you create a schedule (using pictures) for you nephew, so he knows what to expect each day (first wake up, breakfast, indoor playtime, lunch, outside playtime, dinner, etc). The pictures let him see for himself what to expect, and he can see when his coveted outside playtime is scheduled.

Best wishes.

iVillage Member
Registered: 08-17-2008
Wed, 08-20-2008 - 12:01am
Wow. Thank you so much. That was really helpful! I'll try to talk to his parents about the early intervention program. Pray for me. They are really not open to the idea that anything is "wrong" with their son. I wish I could take him to the doctor on my own, but I'm pretty sure that's not allowed. Thank you all so much!
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-19-2003
Wed, 08-20-2008 - 2:59pm

It's hard. None of us want to admit our kids are not perfect. EI allows your child to learn skills that will help them later in life. If he does have a problem, he'll qualify for intervention and free (or greatly reduced) preschool. I know a number of kids who got help early and are in regular class rooms, have friends and do fine socially at school. I only know they had EI services because their parents chose to tell me.

Good luck and thank you for being such a concerned and loving aunt.