Help......My child is self-harming.

Self-harm can be troubling for parents to witness. It can also be bewildering, frightening and alarming. The parents of many of the children/young people I support feel helpless, that they have failed as a parent and that their child is out of control.

The next few paragraphs are aimed at giving you (The parent) brief information about self-harm in order to assist you in supporting your son or daughter; it does not go into detail about the potential causes, significance or cultural/peer influences associated with the behaviour. Please note; the support below must be considered in conjunction with your child's G.P or other medical profession. When you discover your child is self-harming it is essential that you make contact with their G.P.  

What not to do – Panic! Self-harm can be a complex issue; however, very basically, self-harm indicates that what your son or daughter is going through is too big to manage; they literally cannot contain their distress. Self-harm, whilst difficult for others to experience, is a temporary release for them; it can be a switch from unmanageable emotional pain, to more manageable physical pain. Although many self-harmers report that they are so consumed by their emotions they don’t even feel the pain. The release they experience also has a physical element. If we take cutting, a common form of self-harm, when cutting and slightly shortly after, the body releases endorphins, that literally give the individual an emotional lift or you could say an endorphin high.

Self-harming; which can vary from cutting, burning, hair pulling, scratching and biting to name just some activities, can be seen as a coping method. As stated above, whatever your child is experiencing is too difficult for them to handle. This can mean they simply don’t yet have the emotional maturity to know what to do. 

How do I stop my child from self-harming?

There are many different theories on how to support a self-harmer. It is important to remember that self-harm is a spectrum that ranges from superficial surface scratches to life threatening deep cuts over a vital artery.

Whether your child’s self-harm is mild or severe, the first thing I suggest is to reassure them that they are not in trouble and that you want to help them. Remember they can feel overwhelmed, frightened and out of control too; so letting them know that there are alternatives to self-harm and that there are specially trained professionals to help explore the alternatives can be very helpful.

Depending on where the self-harm sits on the spectrum would determine the intervention; although first aid action has to be a priority and I always suggest accessing professional medical support via a G.P or the local hospital.

Next, if the self-harm is severe, enduring and risky then psychiatric help is most appropriate. Generally, your G.P can make a referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

If the self-harm is mild to moderate, consult your G.P and ask them whether they feel counselling would help. If the G.P feels counselling would be beneficial, discuss this with your child, if their perception is that they are being made to see a counsellor, it could increase their anguish. It is always better to gain their permission before going ahead and booking a session.  

Talking to a professional who is experienced in working with self-harm, is not frightened or alarmed by this behaviour is extremely helpful. For your child, it takes the issue/s from unmanageable to manageable.

Finally, as mentioned previously, self-harm is a spectrum and a complex issue that must include the support from a G.P or medical professional. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Richard Carroll - M.A, BSc, MBACP Accred Counsellor/Psychotherapist & Supervisor

I am a very experienced, well qualified and accredited counsellor/psychotherapist and work with adults, children, young people and couples. I work in an integrative way; which means my approach offers me the flexibility to support people in a sensitive, warm, caring and professional way no matter what the issue/problems is.… Read more

Written by Richard Carroll - M.A, BSc, MBACP Accred Counsellor/Psychotherapist & Supervisor

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