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Adopted Child and Self-Injury: Head-Banging

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By faitha - Posted on 05 March 2008

The form of self-injury that your adopted child uses can provide you with insight into your adopted child's unmet emotional needs. By identifying the child's unmet emotional needs, you will be in a better position to know how to help your adopted child to stop using self-injury to manage his emotions.

A form of self-injury that gets less press than cutting is called head-banging. When the child becomes overwhelmed emotionally, he rhythmically bangs his head multiple times into a pillow or a harder surface, such as a wall. In some cases, the head-banging is part of an underlying condition, such as autism, but many people use head-banging as a form of self-injury to manage deep emotional pain.

When a child chooses head-banging as his form of self-injury, he is expressing his despair. People make jokes about being ready to "bang my head" when they reach a place in which they are out of options and do not know what else to do. This is the feeling that triggers the head-banging in those who use this form of self-injury. It is an expression of having no good alternative available.

If you are parenting an adopted child who struggles with head-banging, try to avoid setting your child up for "Catch 22" situations, such as forcing them to choose between two negative alternatives. With most children, telling them that they must do X or they will have to do Y is a logical consequence that is an effective way of getting children to do things they do not want to do. However, when you are parenting a child who is prone to head-banging, this type of parenting can wind up triggering another episode. The child is not doing this to manipulate you. Instead, what he perceives as a "no-win" situation is triggering an emotional flashback of despair, and he is reacting to those feelings.

Your adopted child will be less likely to bang his head as he comes to realize that he has options. Most situations in life are not completely black or white, and it is rare that only two negative alternatives exist. Help your child learn how to brainstorm other, more acceptable, alternatives when he feels cornered. As he learns this skill, do all you can to avoid your child feeling "cornered" or "trapped" between two very bad alternatives.

Related topic:

Aftereffects of Childhood Abuse: Self-injury

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt