How to Help Your Child/Teen Who Self Harms

What is self harm? Simply, it’s any behavior that causes harm to a person in attempt to deal with overwhelming emotions or thoughts to feel better. Self harm is not limited to just cutting oneself (although that is one of the more common methods). Self harm can include cutting, scratching oneself, burning, biting, picking skin, or banging head. Depending on the age of the child, there are certain behaviors that may be more common.

WHO engages in self harm? Anyone. Just because someone is depressed or anxious, or has difficulties with managing emotions in general, does not mean they will engage in self harm.

WHY self injure? Reasons most often include self injury serving as a distraction from intense emotional pain, or as an attempt to feel something when a person feels numb. Self injury can also be a way of communication as it often elicits empathy and concern. When a person does not know how else to ask for these things, they may injure themselves in order to communicate those needs.

WHERE self injure? Most often, self injury occurs in private and in areas on a body that are easily concealed with clothing. So, while there are situations that someone may use self injury to communicate, it is extremely common for this behavior to remain hidden as it can cause emotional relief, but also shame and guilt.

What do you do as a parent? It can be extremely stressful and difficult to know that your child is distressed and taking that distress out on themselves. Your reaction may be to ask a lot of questions in order to find out why this is happening. Check out the do’s and don’t below to give you some guidance on how to best help. Not included is seeking out professional help. Self injury can indicate a deeper mental health problem, and may require specific types of therapy such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

You can also utilize the crisis text number. Text a Crisis Counselor at 741471 or call (518)560-4277 to get connected to a therapist at Freedom First Psychological Services.

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