Your child may have been self-injuring for months and hiding it without your knowledge. But you're reading this article today, so you might have realized that something isn't right. You've seen injuries like cuts, burns, bald patches, or bites that don't make sense. Or maybe your teen wore long-sleeves and pants all summer, or spent a lot of time behind closed doors, or maybe you've found razors, safety pins, or bloody napkins around the house.
Common Reasons Children and Adolescents Self-Harm
Self-injury is a coping mechanism for controlling emotions and counteracting stress. For example, when a person cuts, they feel temporary euphoria, a high that puts them in a better state of mind. Common reasons for self-harm are:
--To avoid feeling ‘numb’ or apathetic
--To punish themselves
--To distract from feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing
DOs and DON’Ts When Your Child or Adolescent Is Self-Harming
Discovering self-harm on your child’s body can be shocking and overwhelming. Like many parents, you might be confused about the next best step to take. It’s likely that you want the self-harm to stop immediately, and you might already have demanded that from your child. However, your child needs you to focus on the cause of the self-injury rather than the act itself, otherwise your child might just find another unhealthy way to deal with their distress.
Here are some DOs and DON’Ts to better support you and your child during this time:
--DO NOT ignore the self-harm, thinking your child will stop if you don’t give them attention for it.
--DO NOT assume your child is being dramatic, is crying out for attention, or is copying someone else.
--DO take time to collect yourself until you're ready to get involved without shaming or anger. If you have already reacted, it's okay to take a step back and try again.
--DO explain the discoveries you have made and ask your child directly if they have been harming themselves. It's important to be very clear that although you may be disappointed or angry, these discoveries don’t change how you feel about your child.
Please note: your child should be seen by a mental health professional immediately if they are suicidal. If the injuries are infected, be sure to consult with a medical professional as well.