Q: When my two-year-old gets angry, he sometimes gets down and bangs his head on the floor. This happens two or three times a week, generally speaking. He’s not bruised himself, yet, but I don’t know how long that’s going to last. To make matters worse, I’ve made the mistake of reading about various psychological disorders and have started to obsess about the autism spectrum thing. Other than the headbanging, he’s a happy, verbal, and very imaginative child, able to play by himself in his room for several hours at a stretch. I’m blessed and worried at the same time. Can you give me some reassuring words?
A: That’s not an unreasonable request. Try these: Far as I can tell, you have nothing to worry about. Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it in a moment or three.
It’s a fascinating fact, human beings are the only species that need – or have recently come to thinking they need – specially-trained, highly-evolved, super- sages like myself to help them navigate the fundamentally simple, non-intellectual process of raising a child to competent adulthood. Since 1970, more than 100,000 books on how to raise children have hit the market. Around twenty were written by yours truly (with more to come). God help me.
The irony in all of this is the more the experts have published, the more difficult childrearing has become. A good part of the problem has to do with the inherently progressive nature of the publishing business. To be published, an author must come up with a new idea, a novel approach, something “fresh.” It follows that the more parenting books, articles, columns, and so on a parent reads, the more the parent is bombarded with new ideas and approaches, and the more confused and anxious the parent becomes. Too much information!
To continue…and the more confused and anxious the parent becomes, the more the parent reads in a never-ending and vain search for the new idea that will end all new ideas. This craziness is why I have a job. Like I said.
Unlike most people of my ilk, however, I am a proponent of the ancient kisaii school of wisdom parenting, kisaii standing for keep-it-simple, as-it-is. In the raising of a child, the simplest approach (unconditional love and an equal measure of unequivocal leadership) and the simplest explanations rule. You, dear mother, are thinking too much. You are indeed blessed! He entertains himself for hours? That’s as clear a sign of good development as any. But, keep in mind, nearly all toddlers are haunted with episodes of kick-out-the-jams insanity.
I flunked Diagnosing Across the Miles 101 in grad school, but I can tell you that two-year-olds – being the nut cases they can become in a heartbeat – are prone to doing things like banging their heads on the floor when they don’t get their way. I might be concerned if he was oblivious to hurting himself, but the absence of bruising and the fact he’s still acting normatively in every other respect (he’s not acting like a drunk, e.g.) suggests strongly that he knows when to stop.
To bring this chapter in his life to a close, draw a chalk circle on the floor in a side room. Tell him his doctor says he can bang his head all he wants, but only inside the circle. If he starts banging, take him to the circle (drag gently), say, “Bang your head here, my love,” and walk away.
This too will pass. I give it two weeks, tops. See how simple that was?
John Rosemond is a family psychologist, www.rosemond.com.