As a parent, you want nothing more for your children than to be safe, happy, and healthy. The thought of your child hurting themselves can stop you in your tracks. If you learn or suspect that your child is hurting themselves, you might feel shocked, afraid, or even angry. You may feel guilty, as though you could have done something to prevent it. It’s hard to understand, and it can leave you at a loss. Your first step is to figure out how you can help. It’s important to be able to identify the signs of psychological distress that can lead to self-harm.
What is Self-Harm and What Causes It?
Self-harm is when a person deliberately hurts themselves to help them manage or cope with strong negative emotions. It can allow the individual to gain control over the overwhelming feelings they are experiencing or serve as a means of finding relief. Some turn to self-harm to feel something other than the loneliness, emptiness, or hopelessness that they are experiencing. Ultimately, self-harm is a sign of distress. It’s crucial to find out why your child is self-harming to allow you to find the right solution to their problems.
Forms of Self-Harm
Whether obvious or subtle, physically dangerous or symbolic, self-harm can look different for everyone. Forms of self-harm can include:
- Cutting, scratching, or carving themselves
- Branding or marking the body
- Pulling hair, or ripping it out altogether
- Picking at scabs to prevent them from healing
- Burning themselves
- Biting or hitting themselves
- Hitting their body against something
Signs That Your Child is Hurting Themselves
Most people who self-harm attempt to hide their wounds. They may feel ashamed of their behavior or worry that others will be angry, judge them, or won’t understand. If you’re concerned that your child might be self-harming, look out for these signs:
- Injuries from cutting or scratching as if with a razor, paperclip, tack, or anything that can break the skin
- Multiple similar marks in one area
- Any wound or injury that your child cannot clearly explain
- A sudden fascination with or desire to learn about self-harm and other destructive behaviors
- A desire to hide certain body parts by covering them up unusually, such as by wearing long-sleeved shirts on hot days, constantly wearing band-aids, or other means of covering specific areas
- An increase in symptoms of anxiety, stress, or depression
- A traumatic or emotional event that can trigger distress such as a breakup with a boyfriend/girlfriend, ending a friendship, pandemic isolation, or rejection from a university
- A dramatic change in behavior, such as isolating themselves from friends and family
Talking to Your Child About Self-Harm
One of the most productive and powerful things you can do for your child is to let them know that you are there to listen and that you love them no matter what. If your child does open up to you, listen to them carefully and validate their feelings. Remember that they are in distress. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, they feel the way they do for a reason. Do your best to understand and validate their feelings to maintain a safe environment where they can feel heard and respected.
Speak calmly, directly, and without judgment. Make compassionate statements like “I can tell you’re upset about this,” “I’m here to listen to you, and I won’t get angry.” Avoid saying counterproductive things like “you’re only doing this for attention” or “just grow up already.” Most self-harm isn’t about getting attention, and even if that’s the source, it still indicates a dangerous emotional imbalance.
Finding a Solution for Self-Harm
Your child may feel ashamed to talk about self-harm, so be sensitive in initiating the conversation and let them know that you are there for them. You can say things such as “I noticed the scars are your arm. Would you like to talk about them?” At the same time, limit your questions. While it’s normal for you to want to know why this is happening, bombarding your child with questions on a subject that makes them uneasy can overwhelm them and limit their willingness to continue the conversation.
If you witness any cuts or injuries, address them calmly. Most kids who self-harm hide their injuries from their parents to prevent them from worrying. Do your best not to overreact or make them feel uncomfortable about the injuries they’ve caused themselves. Get medical attention as necessary. Reach out to a mental health counselor who can recommend different therapies depending on your child’s needs. Treatment might include psychological therapy for your child as well as for your family.
Finding out or even entertaining the notion that your child is cutting or otherwise hurting themselves in any way can leave you feeling shocked, sad, guilty, and overwhelmed. It can be extremely painful to figure out how to help your child while also managing your feelings. Although you might feel angry or want to ask your child a barrage of questions, the best thing you can do is to remain calm and provide a space for your child to feel loved and free of judgment. While self-harm stems from a variety of causes, the signs are often consistent. If you are concerned that your child is practicing self-harm, you must seek professional help right away. The expert professionals at Achieve Concierge specialize in youth mental health services. Our mission is to provide individualized services to your child or teen at the deepest mental level. Let us help you to help your child through this difficult time. Call us at (858) 221-0344 to learn more.