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Understanding self-harm amongst children and teens…

Understanding self-harm among children and teens is crucial for parents to provide appropriate support and intervention.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm refers to deliberate acts of injuring oneself, typically without the intention of causing death. Common self-harming behaviours include cutting, burning, scratching, hitting, or pulling hair.

Why do people do it?

It is often a coping mechanism used to deal with emotional pain, stress, or a sense of lack of control. Self-harm can be an expression of underlying mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder.

It is important to approach self-harm with empathy and seek professional help to address the underlying causes and provide appropriate support.

Some important points to consider:

  1. Definition and reasons: Self-harm refers to deliberate acts of self-injury without intending suicide. It is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming emotional pain, distress, or a lack of effective coping skills. Understanding that self-harm is an expression of deeper emotional struggles is essential.

  2. Signs and behaviours: Look for signs such as unexplained cuts, bruises, or burns, particularly in discreet areas like the wrists, thighs, or upper arms. The presence of sharp objects or instruments among their belongings may also be indicative. Notice changes in mood, withdrawal from activities or social interaction, or wearing concealing clothing even in warm weather.

  3. Open and non-judgmental communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where your child feels comfortable discussing their feelings and experiences. Avoid reacting with anger, criticism, or punishment. Instead, listen empathetically, ask open-ended questions, and express your concern and support.

  4. Seek professional help: It is important to involve a healthcare professional, such as a mental health counsellor or therapist, who specializes in working with children and adolescents. They can help assess the severity of the self-harming behaviour, provide appropriate interventions, and address the underlying emotional struggles.

  5. Develop healthy coping mechanisms: Encourage your child to explore and engage in alternative coping strategies. Help them discover healthy outlets for their emotions, such as talking to a trusted person, journaling, engaging in creative activities, physical exercise, or mindfulness techniques.

  6. Enhance emotional regulation skills: Support your child in developing effective emotional regulation skills. Teach them how to identify and label their emotions, express them appropriately, and find constructive ways to manage and process their feelings.

  7. Promote a supportive network: Help your child establish a network of supportive relationships. Encourage them to connect with trusted friends, family members, or support groups where they can share their experiences and receive understanding and encouragement.

  8. Create a safety plan: Work with a mental health professional to develop a safety plan that includes strategies to prevent self-harm during moments of distress. This can involve identifying trusted individuals to reach out to, engaging in distracting activities, or using grounding techniques.

  9. Educate yourself: Take the time to educate yourself about self-harm. Learn about the underlying causes, the impact it can have on individuals, and the available treatment options. This knowledge will help you provide informed support and understanding to your child.

  10. Practice self-care: Caring for a child who self-harms can be emotionally challenging. It is essential to prioritize your own well-being by seeking support for yourself, engaging in self-care activities, and ensuring you have a support network to lean on.

Remember, addressing self-harm requires patience, understanding, and professional guidance. By fostering open communication, providing support, and seeking appropriate help, you can play a significant role in helping your child navigate their emotions and find healthier coping strategies.


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