When a child is self-injuring through cutting, burning, biting, or ingesting items, remember that there are solutions, but these solutions are not quick fixes. There are many reasons why children self-injury and all of them have to do with underlying emotional distress.
Below are some first steps to take with your child when you learn that they are self-injuring:
1. Deal with your own feelings. You may feel shocked, confused, or even disgusted by self-injuring behaviors—and guilty about admitting these feelings. Acknowledging your feelings is an important first step toward helping the child.
2. Learn about the problem. The best way to overcome any discomfort or distaste you feel about self-injury is by learning about it. Understanding why they are self-injuring can help you see the world from his or her eyes.
3. Don’t judge. Avoid judgmental comments and criticism—they’ll only make things worse. The first two tips will go a long way in helping you with this. Remember, the self-harming person already feels ashamed and alone.
4. Offer support, not ultimatums. It’s only natural to want to help, but threats, punishments, and ultimatums are counterproductive. Express your concern and let the person know that you’re available whenever he or she wants to talk or needs support. This does not mean that we won’t get them in therapy but the first goal is safety, emotionally and physically.
5. Encourage communication. Encourage the youth to express whatever he or she is feeling, even if it’s something you might be uncomfortable with. If the person hasn’t told you about the self-injury, bring up the subject in a caring, non-confrontational way: “I’ve noticed injuries on your body, and I want to understand what you’re going through.”
*Check back for future blog posts relating to the neuropsychology of self-injurious behavior*
Kimberly Presley, MSW,LCSW
To learn more about helping your child when they are self-injuring, visit the Taylor Counseling Group Blog.
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