As a parent, I can empathize with the emotions felt when a child discloses self-harm or when you find out that your child has been self-harming. Emotions that you might experience are fear, anger and confusion. This article discusses five tips to consider when you become aware of your child’s self-harming behavior.
1. Self-harm does not equal suicide.
Just because your child self-harms does not mean that they are contemplating or attempting suicide. Cutting is a coping skill that your child has learned. Cutting helps the child through difficult moments and often does not occur every day. Take time to research or speak to a medical or mental health professional about cutting before you react. By familiarizing yourself with this behavior, you decrease your anxiety and can hopefully be an informed parent as you communicate with your child.
One of the most effective ways of connecting and showing your support to your child is to hear them out. Allow them to explain their “why” and what has happened or is happening in their lives. Listen without judgement and affirm their emotions and beliefs about their situations — even if you do not agree with them. By listening, your child will feel that you hear them.
3. Ask them for what they need.
In addition to listening, it is essential to find out what your child wants from you in that moment. Do they need space, to include a friend, to speak to a therapist, or gain some reassurance from you that you understand? Of course, if medical attention is necessary for deep wounds, infections, etc., seek medical attention. Having the child speak to a mental health professional is a great option as well. This therapist may help the child (and you!) Make sense of their challenges and create some strategies for the future.
4. It’s not just going to STOP!
Cutting is a very real thing that serves a real purpose for your child. Be patient. As your child attends counseling or does their own self-work, trust the process. It may take weeks, months, or a year. The most important thing is that you and your child are informed and are working towards a solution. Keep the communication open, respectful and honest. Keep encouraging them.
5. Work with your child.
This goes with the previous reminder. All of us have challenges. Learn coping strategies and practice techniques along with your child — or as a family. This will help normalize the occurrence. By working together, your child will feel heard and know that you are cooperating with their treatment. I promise, you will be able to use what your child is learning in your own life. That’s a win-win situation.
Living with a child who self-harms can be scary. Being an informed parent and patient with your child will make all the difference as your child accepts responsibility for their own mental wellness and safety.
Jae Porter is a clinician that assists parents with children who self-harm or are experiencing thoughts of suicide. To speak with this clinician, please schedule a consultation using the link above.
DISCLAIMER: If you feel that your child is at risk or needs someone to talk to in the moment, please have your child call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. As texting is more trendy, this is a great option for children and adolescents to have 24/7 access to trained professionals.