“My Child Is Self-Harming”
– A Blog Post Written by Izzy
Izzy, a student in NVEEE’s Peace Ambassador Program, gets candid and answers some tough questions about her process of self harming at age 11, how bullying had an impact on her life, and how other parents can tell if their child is self harming.
You recently have found out that your child is self-harming. It is scary, concerning and frustrating news to hear. You might not understand why your child would deliberately hurt his or her self. Many parents find themselves in similar situations. You want to help, but you don’t know how or you feel that your efforts aren’t working.
Without realizing it, parents can often cause more harm than good after they discover their child’s self-harming behaviors.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for helping a child who is self-harming:
- Understand that self-harm is a coping mechanism. Like eating a tub of ice cream when you’re sad or exercising to burn off steam, self-harm is a way to deal with negative, unpleasant feelings. Many students who self-harm feel like it is the only way they can cope with their problems.
- Give your child the opportunity to come to you about their problems. Self-harm is a private, secretive behavior. It carries a lot of guilt and shame; many kids don’t want to talk about it because it is embarrassing and personal. It is important to make yourself open to your child so that they know that you are willing to listen to what they have to say without judgment or punishment.
- Offer encouragement and support. Tell your child that you love them unconditionally and that you are there for them. Ask your child how they are feeling rather if they have self-harmed recently.
- Encourage your child to seek professional help. Listen to your child’s feedback if they say that they don’t like the counselor or therapist they are seeing. Ask your child’s therapist or counselor questions, voice your concerns, and keep an open mind to some of the solutions that the therapist might recommend.
- Pressure your child into talking about their self-harm. Self-harm is very personal and private. For many kids, it is the last thing that they can depend on; sharing it with others can make them feel very vulnerable and uncomfortable. Pressuring or forcing your child to talk about it may actually just push your child away.
- Try to force your child to stop. Many kids feel that self-harm is their way of having some kind of control over their life. They can control their pain or their emotions; trying to take that away from them can be very terrifying and upsetting. In addition, trying to force them to stop probably won’t make them. Hiding sharp objects or punishing them for self-harming will probably just upset and hurt your child. No amount of begging, pleading, or punishing will make them stop if they don’t want to do it. Refer back to the Do’s. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and help them find other ways of coping with negative emotions.
- Dismiss or belittle your child’s situation. Even if you believe that that other people have “been through worse,” your child’s pain and problems still exist and they are very real to them. Kids often times already feel guilty for their behaviors. Adding to those feelings is not productive.
- Force your child into showing you their self-harm wounds and scars. Like stated before, self-harm is very personal. They hide their behaviors for a reason. If you are concerned for your child’s safety, ask him or her if they need medical attention. Ask them if they are cleaning or taking care of their wounds as necessary to prevent infection.
- React in anger. Of course, all your feelings and concerns for your child are valid, but exploding in rage because your child has seriously injured themselves or because they have told you why they are self-harming will do nothing but push them away.
It is important to understand that self-harm is not a disease or disorder. It is an unhealthy coping mechanism. The reasons why your child is doing it are complicated and will take time to figure out. Being supportive, loving and open, as well as educating yourself on mental health and self-harm is a great first step.
1-800-DON’T-CUT – More info on self-injury
1-800-273-TALK – A 24-hour crisis hotline if you’re about to self-harm or are in an emergency situation.
1-800-334-HELP – Self Injury Foundation’s 24-hour national crisis line.
http://www.selfinjury.com – Referrals for therapists and tips for how to stop.