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Is your child self harming?

is your child self harming

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What is it?

Is your child self harming or are you worried they might be? Self harm is a condition where people will hurt themselves to express inner feelings or release emotional pain that they just can’t put into words. This release of emotion through physical pain may help them feel better for a short period of time but then those feelings of pain and sadness return and they will re-start the cycle of self harming.

Why do people self harm?

Some people use self harming as their only way of coping or distracting themselves from stresses and problems in their life, but it can lead to more serious psychological damage and those that self harm are at greater risk of suicide in later life. If you’re worried your child is self harming, look out for the warning signs and then address the issue as soon as possible.

As a parent, it may be hard to comprehend why your child will hurt themselves physically and wonder how causing injury and pain can help them deal with their feelings and emotions within? But self harm is the outward sign they are hurting inside, either with sadness, guilt, rage or self-loathing, yet can’t express their feelings in a normal way. They will probably hurt themselves in secret, be ashamed and try and hide any signs. Ultimately, it will start to have an effect on their relationships with their family and friends and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.


Self harming can be a taboo subject and as a result, there are various misconceptions surrounding the reasons for it. Many think it’s a form of attentions seeking but in truth, self harmers do so in secret and try and hide what they’re doing, rarely coming forward to seek help. Neither are they crazy or dangerous; placing such labels on them isn’t helpful as self harming is the only way in which they feel they can cope with anxiety, depression or a previous trauma.is your child self harming

Another myth is that people who self injure want to die but in truth, they are harming themselves in a bid to cope with life, they aren’t attempting to kill themselves but given that they have a higher risk of suicide, it’s imperative to seek help as soon as possible.

Look for signs of self harm

Self harming isn’t just limited to cutting which is the most common type of injury. Look out for signs of severe scratches, scalding, burning, stabbing, intentionally punching things or hitting themselves and preventing wounds from healing. Because clothing can hide physical marks, it may be difficult to spot the signs so be aware of unexplained blood stains on clothing, towels, bedding or blood soaked tissues.

Check for sharp objects to be used for cutting such as razors, needles or shards of glass in their personal belongings and be mindful if they appear to have frequent ‘accidents’ which they use as an excuse for their injuries. Your child might be spending long periods of time alone especially in the bathroom or bedroom and may take to wearing long sleeve tops or long trousers to cover marks, even in the height of summer.

Learn about self harming

You may be confused as to why your child hurts themselves,  so learn more about the problem yourself to help you come to terms with what they are doing and the reasons why. Never judge or criticise your child, even if you are shocked or disturbed by their behaviour, they are already feeling ashamed and alone, hence their need to self harm in the first place.

You need to be there to offer support and help them find better ways of expressing their emotions. Ultimatums, threats and punishments will only make matters worse, so encourage communication in a non-confrontational way, you might want to start with ‘I’ve notice you have some marks on your arms and I want you to help me understand what you’re going through’. With this you will have to prepare for some difficult conversations about what they might be going through and be willing to address issues within the family.

Help to express feelings

Once you have figured out why your child self harms, you can begin to look into other ways of helping them express their feelings and look out for triggers which cause them to self harm. Developing emotional awareness within your child is the key to helping them overcome their issues and they will begin to understand there are so many other healthier alternatives for coping with difficult situations. Expressing pain can be done through painting, drawing, writing a poem, keeping a diary or listening to certain music that draws out those feelings.is your child self harming

Healthier alternatives to self harming

  • If your child self harms to sooth or calm themselves, they could try taking a bath, listening to calming music, going for a long walk with the dog or stroking the cat or you could massage their back or neck.
  • Cutting because they feel numb or dead inside could be replaced by holding an ice cube against the skin, taking a cold shower, chewing on something strong or spicy like lemon peel or chilies or looking online at self help sites or forums.
  • If they injure themselves to release anger they could try going for a run, exercising vigorously, hitting a punch bag, screaming into a pillow or squeezing a stress ball.
  • If they don’t already, then playing an instrument can often help them release their emotions through music and give them something more positive to focus on.
  • If they miss the sensation of cutting the skin, they might want to try putting elastic bands around the arms or legs and snapping them or drawing on the skin with red felt tip.

Extreme cases

In more extreme cases, children will need to seek help from a professional, either a doctor or a therapist. Kids that self harm have often been through some form of trauma in their younger years so speaking to a professional may help get to the root cause of the pain and in instances where the self harm is so serious they are at risk of suicide, they may be admitted into hospital or a specialist unit that specifically deals with severe self harm.

Although you might not understand why your child is expressing themselves in a destructive way, it’s important to remember that they are doing it to cope. Once you understand why and keep communication between you honest and open, you are heading in the right direction to help them discover a healthier method of dealing with their emotions.




About Rebecca Robinson

About Rebecca Robinson

After spending the last 8 years juggling life as a mum of two, wife and working full time as a Project Manager for a global telecommunications company, Rebecca Robinson made the decision to follow her love of writing and took the plunge; turning her passion into a full time career. Since becoming a full time writer, Rebecca has worked with various media and copy-writing companies and with the ability to make any topic relevant and interesting to the reader, now contributes to The Working Parent on articles ranging from credit cards to teenage relationships. Ever the optimist, Rebecca's dreams for the future include a house in the country filled with children, dogs and horses in the field!

Website: Rebecca Robinson

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