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The One Thing I'll Never Do Again on Facebook

Cute kid. Shame about the scab.

My son is a headbanger, and not in a rock-and-roll sort of way. It's a self-soothing technique that a small percentage of children take part in that some people think mimics the rhythms of the womb. I can't remember when it started: possibly six months to a year old, and it's allegedly supposed to end when he's around three, although I've heard anecdotes from former headbangers and their relatives that it can go on for years, sometimes even into adulthood.

When it first started, it was disconcerting, especially because, like most childhood oddities, the first thing that comes up when you Google it is a promise that headbanging a sign of some syndrome or disease. However, our pediatrician repeatedly reassured us that it was perfectly normal and our son was a happy, healthy, smart little boy.

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The times when the headbanging would most bother us would be when it was particularly loud (it can be heard from another floor, like a neighbor bumping bass-heavy music) or when our son would bang so much that he'd get a scab on his head, which was unsettling and unsightly. When he slept in a crib, we finally solved the problem by duct-taping blankets around the edges, which was not exactly a Pinterest-worthy look, but if we just tucked the blankets around, our kid would pull them down to get to that sweet, hard action. (He really likes headbanging.)

We hoped that the headbanging would start to subside when we moved our son into a twin bed with a padded headboard, but he discovered that he could still bang his head against the protective guardrail. By this time, we were old enough to talk to him about the headbanging. He knew he did it, and that we didn't want him to, but it still happened, and when we asked him why he did it, he said "I don't know!" Which is a fair answer, because we all do weird stuff for reasons we don't know.

The people I'm asking there don't know me or my kid and aren't going to help. If I just want commiseration, I should just speak with my friends.

One night, though, it was really bad. I was about eight months pregnant and our son had had a rough week, with both pink eye and a bad cold. Plus, we had just come home from a weekend out of town, so we were out of our usual routine. Our son headbangs most when he's trying to sleep (or coming out of sleep) and so it was a very loud night. At around 2 am I heard him crying, which is not usually part of his repertoire: I went to his room and found him sobbing, his head opened up, blood on the sheets. We were all freaked out. I tore the railing off the bed, deciding I could live with myself if he rolled the eight inches onto the floor, slapped a huge Band-Aid on his head, and he eventually fell asleep. But then I did something dumb:

I posted about it on Facebook.

"What do you do when your child bangs his head so hard against his bed he bleeds?" I wrote. I was exhausted and scared and needed some commiseration, if not an actual suggestion for what we could do.

Initially the responses were kind and generic, which was what I needed. I went to sleep. But then I woke up to the feedback from the Facebook pediatricians.

Some people suggested that our son had some sort of sensory deprivation syndrome that caused him to seek out the stimulation he does. One man said my kid sounded like his nonverbal, severely autistic teen. And then one acquaintance, whom I haven't seen since college, sent me a message telling me that I should definitely seek a psychiatric evaluation for my son because the headbanging was most likely a "red flag." (A friend of mine who works with actual special-needs kids texted me in both reassurance and in disgust that our kid was fine and I was Facebook friends with a bunch of morons.)

What is it about social media that inspires parents to go to the worst-case scenario? Why would a stranger decide it's helpful or compassionate to frighten someone by suggesting that their child has some sort of scary issue that's been overlooked by their parents and pediatricians? Some people just can't help themselves. On another occasion, on a mommy board, I posted asking members specifically to reassure me that my son would be OK if I didn't hold him back in school due to his late birthday. Most people played along. One or two though still figured the most helpful information for me to hear was that, no, he probably wouldn't be all right. Even though I had specifically said, "Please tell me my son will be fine."

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I've learned my lesson. Social media is not the place for me to ask serious child-related questions. The people I'm asking there don't know me or my kid and aren't going to help. If I just want commiseration, I should just speak with my friends. If I learned anything, I realized that deep down, I knew my son is fine. I was scared about the blood and what people would think of me when they saw his scabbed head and was tired of being woken up due his pounding, but in the morning, everything was back to normal (aside from his forehead).

I won't make that mistake again, of asking the peanut gallery. But if you're one of those peanut gallery people, the next time you answer someone's late-night desperate query, ponder to yourself what's more helpful—telling a parent what you think they ought to know, or what you think they want to hear.

Incidentally, our son has discovered that he can still head-bang if he pulls a book into bed with him, but we're fine with it as long as it's quiet and it doesn't scab his head up. Like I said, he really likes headbanging.

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