It has been reported in 2017 that self-harm in 13-16 year old girls had increased by 68% in three years.

This week, The Children’s Society reported that a quarter of girls and 1 in 10 boys self-harm.

This makes for unsettling reading for any parent. For many, this topic can be terribly scary as they themselves, have little first hand experience of self-harm; resulting in them approaching self-harm from a place of fear.

When a parent finds out that their child has been self-harming they do very often blame themselves. Experiencing feelings of :

  • Confusion
  • Helplessness
  • Uncertainty.

It is understandable for parents to be alarmed as reports are quoting rising statistics and also linking self-harm with increased risks of suicide.

So understanding self harm, in my opinion, is key.

What is Self-Harm?

“It is hurting yourself or damaging yourself on purpose.” ~~ ChildLine

Self-harm might manifest as Cutting, Bruising, Scratching, Burning or Hair-pulling. Eating disorders and addictions may also be regarded as self-harm.

Why do people Self-Harm?

Typical responses I have received from children are:

  • “It is the way of dealing with emotional pain in a physical way.”
  • “It helps release tension.”
  • “I have absolutely no idea.”
  • “It helps me cope with stress and anxieties.”

Because the teenage brain is still developing they still don’t have the emotional intelligence to deal with their strong negative emotions, and for this reason they aren’t sure how to identify with what they feeling : Confusion, Anger, Sadness, Fear, Guilt …?

The overwhelming feelings of panic and stress can be really frightening, so for many young people, self-harm puts the brakes on, for just a moment, during that tidal wave of negative emotion.

Many young people cite their top three reasons for self harm as :

  • Low Self Esteem
  • Bullying
  • Depression

( However, self-diagnosis may not necessarily mean that the child is actually depressed. In any situation a GP should be consulted as soon as possible )

“A Person is not their Behaviour.”

39% of parents think that self-harm is a form of attention seeking.

80% of their children questioned, said this is categorically not the case.

Self-harm, may be a cry for help – but I believe that ‘attention seeking’ implies a more manipulative connotation. Most self-harmers try to cover up their scars and want to avoid being ‘discovered’.

So what can parents do?

There is a secrecy and stigma to self harm, so it is important to react in the “right” way.

“It’s not about YOU.”

The fundamental point to remember is it’s not about you.

The child does not want the added responsibility of negotiating their parents’ pain as well as their own. Neither should they have the added burden of guilt for causing even more upset in the home.

Ask yourself : How would I want my loved one to react if this was me?

As a parent it is your role to support rather than to control.

What to Avoid :

  • Overreacting : This is not productive
  • Judgement : Do not blame yourself or your child
  • Jumping to Conclusions : Not every child who self-harms ever considers suicide.
  • Issuing Ultimatums : Demanding your child to stop is not effective and will put unnecessary pressure on them.
  • Solving the Problem : This is their battle – in which you are performing a supportive role.

What to Do :

67% of parents believe the best course of action for self-harmers is to talk to their parents.

16% of those self-harmers actually said they would consider speaking to their parents.

  • Acknowledge : that this is a recovery process and the pace will be dictated by your child.
  • Offer Support : invariably you may be part of the problem and as a result you might not be the best person for your child to confide in. Deal with this. Perhaps a trusted relative, a GP, or the school nurse maybe be better placed to support your child.
  • Keep Calm : overreacting will just increase anxiety levels.
  • Provide Space : Life does go on. There is still homework to complete and sports practices to attend; self-harm is only one part of your child.
  • Reassure Them : remind them you still love them and that you are there for them. Many children dread disappointing their parents.
  • Be Honest : Above all – if your child is willing to talk to you – just try and listen. If you do not understand – ask them to explain in their own words. However, do not be surprised if your child has difficulty articulating what’s going on for them.

This is a recovery process. Remember like quitting smoking or drinking, the first attempt to quit may not work; but remain positive that they are indeed trying; and with your love and support, they will succeed.

 

Come on over to my Facebook Group : PARENTS : TEEN Toolbox  –  where I have addressed Self-Harm in greater depth.

* Sources : The British Medical Journal, The Children’s Society and Childline

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