- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

Our 20-month-old daughter recently started banging her head on the floor, walls and hard furniture when we don’t give in to her about something. She bangs hard enough to cause embarrassing bruises, but she seems oblivious to the pain. When we try to get her to stop, she becomes violent with us, hitting and biting.

These tantrums, or whatever they are, have lasted almost an hour, at which point she is exhausted and so are we. Our pediatrician says she may be having a type of seizure, but she has never had one of these tantrums at day care or for anyone else.

What do you think, and what do you recommend?

A: I think you need to do whatever your pediatrician recommends, but I have had secondhand experience with lots and lots of toddlers who have been head-bangers. None of them caused himself or herself permanent damage (although I’m not discounting the possibility), and those who were examined for neurological problems were found to have none (although it’s possible that head-banging might be one symptom of a seizure disorder).

One of my graduate school professors maintained that toddlers were psychotic, and I think that’s about as accurate an explanation for this as you’re going to find.

If you want your daughter’s head-slamming sessions to stop, you have to stop getting involved in them. You have to stop trying to restrain her, pacify her, distract her and so on. All of that is well-intentioned, for sure, but it’s doing nothing but feeding the fire.

When she begins banging her head and screaming, walk out of the room. Get as far away from her as you can and find something to do to distract yourselves. Or, you can carry her to her room, put her down on the floor, and walk out.

The parents of a former head-banger told me they solved the problem by encouraging their toddler to bang his head. Several times a day, when he was calm, they would say things like, “This would be a good time to bang your head. We’re going to leave you alone so you can bang your head now.” And they would walk out of the room.

Needless to say, he never banged his head at their suggestion, and he stopped completely within a week. Grandma called that “reverse psychology.”

Q: Our 18-year-old daughter, who just graduated from high school, has announced that she and two of her girlfriends want to drive across the United States and back this summer. They’re all very mature, have never gotten into any trouble and are all going to good colleges in the fall.

My husband says we should let her go, but I’m hesitant. She says that because she is paying for the trip herself with money she has saved, she should be allowed to go. What do you think?

A: Call me a throwback, a male chauvinist pig or hopelessly out of step with the times, but I think the world is more dangerous for females than it is for males, and the younger the female, the more dangers exist. Under no circumstances would I have given my daughter permission to do such a thing when she graduated from high school.

One suggestion is to have at least two of the mothers go along on the trip, perhaps in a separate car. Worst possible scenario: The girls reject that option and your daughter tells you that you can no longer legally tell her what she can and can’t do.

In that event, you should simply inform her that if she wants to emancipate herself, she is free to do so; however, if she insists upon being free to do as she pleases, she also is free to pay for her own college education. Grandma would have said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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