This can be a very scary situation for any parent to find themselves in, finding out that their child is self-harming. It is common for parents to feel panicked, out of control, and even angry. The good news is that professionals are becoming more and more equipped and trained to deal with children who self-harm, as well as being able to help the family adjust to the situation.
Below are 5 tips that can help a parent begin to address and seek help for their child who self-harms.
1. Do not punish the behavior. For many parents, all they want to do is to stop their child from self-harming. And one of the go-to methods for extinguishing a behavior is often punishment. However, with self-harm, punishment is likely to increase the probability of them self-harming again.
2. Help them clean their wounds. After care is vital in preventing infection and knowing if more medical care is needed. Do not ask questions, simply provide first aid. This helps to build trust and care.
3. Seek professional help. It can be a daunting task to try to face this issue at home alone with your child. Do not hesitate to reach out to school counselors and family therapists to help you child and your family address this issue together.
4. Stay calm. This ties into numbers one and two (see above). Remaining calm increases the likelihood of your child sharing with you any self-harming incidents and allowing you to provide first aid. Anger and frustration, while very common and normal reactions, serve only to exacerbate the problem.
5. Validate. Kids who self-harm are often struggling to regulate their internal emotional state, either to feel less or to feel more. Validating their emotions and experience, without offering answers or advice, can model for them how to verbally express their emotions. This can be a first step into finding other options for emotional regulation besides self-harming.
Another thing to remember is that self-harm is not necessarily a suicidal gesture or attempt. Self-harming is serious and should be assessed by a mental health professional as soon as possible. The sooner help is sought, and the more involved the parents are in the process, the greater likelihood of a positive outcome through treatment.
The following are some great resources on the web, with both information and treatment options.