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How can parents support their child when their child is self-harming?

The idea of a child engaging in self-harming behaviours can be terrifying for parents.

Self-harm in children is when they intentionally hurt themselves. It is usually because they're struggling with strong feelings or emotions like sadness or anger.

Children self-harm in different ways, for example:

● Cutting (the most common form of self-harm)

● Burning the skin

● Hitting themselves or banging their head against a wall

● Pulling out hair

● Biting and/or picking skin

Such behaviors may occur just once or they can turn into repetitive and chronic behaviors.

Why do children self-harm?

Sometimes children might not know how to handle difficult emotions like sadness, guilt, and anxiety. So, self-harming seems like a way to cope. It's often like they're trying to take control when everything else around them feels chaotic. It's a serious matter that needs a lot of attention and understanding.

How Can Parents Manage a Child Who Is Self-Harming?

Managing a child who is self-harming requires understanding, patience, and a supportive approach. Here are some helpful and unhelpful ways of managing your children's self-harm behavior...

Helpful Ways

Talk Openly: Creating a space where your child feels safe and at ease talking about their feelings is important. They will open up about what's really upsetting them when you let them know you're available to listen without making judgments.

Be Kind: You have to show your child your real concern for their thoughts and experiences. They are more inclined to accept your support if they feel heard and cared about.

Find Creative Ways to Feel Better: You may encourage your child to do things like writing, drawing, or playing music to let out their feelings in a safe way.

Try Calm and Relaxing Activities: Show your child ways to relax, like deep breathing or thinking about good things. These can help them feel less stressed.

Move and Play: Doing things like playing sports or going for walks can help your child feel happier and less worried.

Wait and Don't Give Up: Getting better takes time. Your child might have times when things are hard but don't give up. Keep being there for them.

Find Alternative Ways to cope: Instead of just focusing on stopping the self-harming behavior, help your child explore healthier ways of dealing with challenging emotions. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, like hobbies or spending time with friends. Additionally, suggest relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises as alternatives to self-harm.

Unhelpful Ways

Be understanding, not punishing: Don't scold your child for self-harm—it could make them feel worse, and feel unwilling to share their problems.

Don't ignore or make light of it: Ignoring or downplaying self-harm might stop your child from seeking the help they really need.

Guilt won't help: Making your child feel guilty about self-harm won't fix things and might make them feel even worse.

Don't demand a sudden stop: It's okay to want them to stop, but just telling them to stop without finding out why won't work well.

No comparing or shaming: Don't compare your child to others or shame them for what they're going through. Comparing and shaming your child will make them feel more alone and upset.

Keep in mind that every child is unique, therefore no one solution works for all. It's crucial to respond to your child's specific needs and to get advice from mental health experts.

Your assistance in helping them establish healthier coping mechanisms and your willingness to do so can help them on their path to recovery.

Seek extra support for your child

If your child shows any signs of self-harm, it is very important that you step in quickly. The best course of action is not to wait for the issue to get worse before getting help.

Making contact with experts in child mental health and self-harm, such as therapists, counsellors, or support groups, can help you to access helpful advice and coping mechanisms.

Please, don’t forget to put yourself first by taking care of yourself and confiding in those you can trust. If required, going to therapy for yourself can help you assist your child more effectively.

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