How to Help Your Child Who Self-Harms

Children and young people who self-harm are by no means uncommon. Finding out your child is hurting themselves can be shocking and create intense emotional distress in any parent. Finding the right ways to cope and deal with the situation is vital.

Why Do Children Self Harm?

Although there’s no surefire way to predict whether or not a young person will turn to self-harm to cope with their emotional stressors, some reasons they may turn to doing so include:1

  • The development of mental health issues like depression, an eating disorder, or anxiety
  • Low self-esteem and low confidence
  • Bullying or feeling like a social outcast
  • Being the subject of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Having problems within family relationships and dynamics
  • Grieving
  • Attempting to interrupt intolerably strong emotions
  • Anger over having no control of their lives
  • Desire to feel some sort of emotion after being numbed to the outside causes of stress
  • As a way to communicate their feelings or at times ask for help
  • To punish themselves or others

It is important to note that, in most cases, self-harm is not a suicide attempt but rather a coping mechanism used to release feelings of tension or emotional stress.

Forms of Self Harm

The most well-known and common form of self-harm is cutting, whether with knives, razors, or any other object sharp enough to scratch the skin.

However, this is not the only form of self-harm, and other methods of achieving the same effect include:

  • Burning
  • Punching or hitting
  • Exercising excessively
  • Starving themselves
  • Biting

Signs Your Child May Be Self-Harming

Signs that your child is self-harming can be subtle and difficult to identify. These signs may also vary according to the form of self-harm your child uses. However, there are a few warning indicators, including:2

  • Wearing long-sleeved clothes even when it’s hot
  • Having unexplained bruises, cuts, or scars
  • Blood-stained clothes or tissues
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Outbursts of aggression
  • Blaming themselves for things that are out of their control
  • Collecting sharp items or lighters
  • Talking about hurting themselves in a joking or nonchalant manner

How to Help and Support Your Child if They Self-Harm

If you think your child may be self-harming, the most important thing is staying calm despite the overflow of emotions you may be experiencing. Some of the best ways to help your child who self-harms are listed below.

1. Offer Emotional Support

Often intense emotional pain can trigger a child to self-harm. Whether you see their pain as valid or not, simply provide them with a supportive listening ear and accept that their opinions of events or people may differ from your own.

2. Help Them Identify What’s Triggering the Self-Harming

Young people who self-harm are typically triggered by specific encounters or events like schoolmates bullying them or conflict at home. Start an open conversation about the things they feel push them to self-harm and avoid dismissing their feelings or thoughts.

Identifying their triggers can help both you and your child find ways to cope.

3. Help Them Find Healthier Ways to Cope

One of the best ways to stop self-harming is to find alternative, healthy ways to cope.

Healthy coping mechanisms may include:

  • Distracting themselves by watching a funny movie or video
  • Going for a run or exercising
  • Taking a bath or shower
  • Punching a pillow or boxing bag
  • Screaming
  • Listening to music
  • Releasing the energy in an journaling or creative session

4. Take Them to Get Professional Help

Often, self-harm may be a symptom of trauma or a mental illness. In this case, your best option may be to seek out the help of a mental health professional. Therapists, child psychiatrists, or even counselors with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) can provide insight and space where your child can talk about their feelings with a stranger without feeling like the things they say will hurt their parents.

5. Be Patient and Supportive

Don’t punish your child for self-harming, as this will likely just worsen their behavior. Instead, offer support and understanding and see overcoming self-harm as a way to strengthen your relationship with them in the end.

7. Seek Support for Yourself

It is natural to feel helpless, angry, or upset by discovering your child self-harms. However, to help them, you need to be physically and emotionally healthy as well. Finding a professional to speak to can ensure you deal with your child’s self-harm in a healthy way so that, in turn, you can help them cope as well.

If your child or a loved one is self-harming, contact our team at 855 414-8100 to get the advice and help you need.