My two and a half year old is a very intelligent child who has already learned three languages and can form entire sentences. Sadly, he will often throw tantrums during the day if he does not get his way. It began with him banging his head against walls and doors and recently he has started to scratch his face severely. He also throws his head back so far that it causes his back to arch and it is difficult for us to control him. Could you please provide advice?

  • 3
    Does your child do this out of frustration (not succeeding in doing what they are allowed to do) or to manipulate you (an attempt to turn your no into a yes)? Jan 17, 2023 at 7:55
  • Yes it generally is and also when either of us travel outstation for work and come back , he expresses such behaviour. Jan 28, 2023 at 6:25

3 Answers 3


You can't control a child having a tantrum, you can only control the space around them to keep them safe, by moving things out of their reach, or picking them up and moving them to another space, but controlling the behavior of a child that's in a tantrum is not possible.

Interacting with your child as little as possible during the tantrum is important, so that you aren't feeding the tantrum with attention.

While it can be challenging, the best emotional response to your child's tantrum is boredom.

Those are a couple short term ways that you can modify the situation to remove any incentive your son has for banging his head or scratching.

If you try these and nothing changes, there may be other sources that are driving your son to bang his head, e.g. ADHD/other. It's reasonable to take your child to a doctor right now, you don't have to wait or try anything new. You're the parent(s), and you know your child the best, and your concerns are always valid.


Just Control All of Time and Space

Our son did everything you're talking about when he was 2, he's now almost 3 1/2 and a lot of this has gone away so hopefully you can look forward to that. I will preface that we didn't have a ton of success with any one thing and this kind of behavior really made it difficult to go places, but here's a few things that might help:

  • Timing is everything - Our son had to have a nap everyday. The timing of said nap had to start somewhere between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. He wouldn't tell us when, we'd have to intuit it by just how quickly he'd get into a bad mood. Obviously, this made things very hard to plan.
  • Try to make sure there's a playground in there - Our son really needed a chance to get some energy out and run around like a lunatic. Going from errand to errand too many times in a row was a really big ask for him. In general, I estimated that I was allowed to have 2 stops that didn't result in a playground before something like a playground was going to be mandatory lest angry toddler time.
  • Cut his nails - Our son would not like it when we'd cut his nails. Conversely, we wouldn't like it when he'd cut himself scratching his face. There were times where we could compromise outside of tantrum (or buildup to a tantrum) that allowed us to sometimes get nail cuttings in once a week. Perhaps he can watch an extra episode of Puppy Dog Pals while drinking from a sippy cup if he lets us cut his nails.
  • Move to soft spaces - The head banging thing was startling when we first saw it. If you can, try and cover up the hard surfaces to the best of your ability, or move him during a tantrum to some area with soft space.
  • Use a firm, but dispassionate tone - During tantrums, we'd have to move my son to his room or some other space that he wasn't so likely to injure himself in while he burned himself out. One of the ways we'd focus on enforcing this was by just sitting there in the space with him and not letting him out. Any communication would be in a tone that was firm and ideally dispassionate to both demonstrate authority in the situation as well as to minimize the likelihood that we'd drop multiple f-bombs in exasperation.
  • Control the center of mass - I have studied martial arts for over 10 years and have used most of it to control toddlers without hurting them. There are a few ways I would move my kids when they were having epic tantrums to get what needed doing, without hurting them and minimizing the risk of injury to myself (one can only take a groin kick so many times before you stop being cool with it). First, be aware that if you push on the center of mass with a flat hand, you will be able to move somebody a lot more easily than if you are offset from the center; for a toddler, the center is right below their belly button on their hips; this becomes very relevant if you need to get them into the car seat long enough for you to be able to get the lap buckles on. If you need to control the arms, don't grasp them with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other (you'll end up having to squeeze a lot harder and might hurt them by accident); instead place all five fingers around their arm and hold it close to their body (sometimes called monkey grip), this can be helpful if you need to hold their arm so they don't hit you.
  • Try to talk about it afterwards - I think a lot of times the difficulty for 2-year olds is that their verbal skills are developing and they often don't know how to express what is bothering them. The head banging is some manner of venting that frustration. I found that gave an opportunity for myself as the adult to offer some possible explanations that my son could hone in on. This resulted in me taking on the burden of helping him to think about and verbally express what he was thinking and he then might just have to tell me that yes that's what it was, or no it was something else, or maybe I could just be someone he'd cry on while he figured it out himself.

Overall, these kinds of tantrums were normal in my experience (but no doubt just awful to deal with). My son went through them, my daughter did too (she would bite as well). Terrible 2's is a real thing. A good bit of 3 can be hard as well, especially because it was around then my son decided he really didn't want to nap.

To the extent that you can, try and mitigate tantrums where possible. But when they happen (and they're gonna happen), try to make things safe for him physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's hard for you and it's hard for him as well, but it can be really fulfilling when you're able to help him to express the frustration he's feeling.

Good luck!


This quite common behavior for a toddler. Even though he speaks well and is showing higher than average intelligence doesn’t equate to understanding his own emotions or how to express them. IQ and EQ are very different things. A high intelligence quotient usually means the emotional quotient is more suppressed and vice versa. According to current psychological studies self harming at this age indicates a struggle with expressing feelings and emotions when unable to have their way. This usually stops by age 3 once their social behaviors develop to include identifying what works or doesn’t work with their parents. It’s hard when, at 2.3, you don’t receive the answer you want. The best advice I’ve found was to acknowledge to them that you understand they don’t like being told no, however the answer isn’t going change just because he has hurt himself. This has to be calmly explained with no reaction to their seemingly extreme attempts to get one. If he scratches his face then take him to mirror and show him what he’s done to his handsome face and then ask him if maybe it’s time to clip his fingernails. This will totally distract his behavior. It’s a tough thing being 2.3 years old. On another but quirky and amusing note, when my nephew turned 5years he began really acting up when not getting his way and my sister was so frustrated so I would come over to their home and doing so change the environment and brought up a conversation like this: To my nephew I’d say, “Oh wow, I just remembered you just had a birthday. You know I remember how difficult it was to be 5years old, I mean you just learned how to be 4 years and then…boom suddenly you are 5 and nobody understands how hard being 5 is…” He would totally change his demeanor and begin agreeing with me. Ha. I do chuckle thinking back on those conversations. However it did help him realize we acknowledged his feelings but wasn’t going to give in. I hope helps with your little guy. I love how many languages he’s picked up on. He’s going to grow up spectacularly! Remember you are doing an amazing job in raising such a talented little man. :)

  • 1
    You make quite a few statements as fact. When they are factual (e.g. "babies cry"), that's fine. But when they may not be ("A high intelligence quotient usually means the emotional quotient is more suppressed and vice versa", "This usually stops by age 3...", etc.) you need to support them with a source. Please edit to support your statements then flag for moderator review. Thanks. Jan 20, 2023 at 14:44

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