“I was shocked and horrified that she could do this to herself. Why? I just couldn’t understand it to start with. I felt heartbroken but really very alone. This is not something you can easily share.”
Information – taken from The Parent’s Guide to Self-Harm: What Parents Need to Know, by Jane Smith (Lion Hudson)
“Self-harm is a coping strategy, not an attempt at suicide. Self-harming usually stems from deep distress and confused thoughts and emotions. It shouldn’t be ignored because your child needs help. It’s essential that you listen to them and allow them to talk about it if they’re prepared to, even though both they and you will find it hard. The first step to recovery is admitting the problem themselves, talking about it to someone who cares and then getting help and support.
People who self-harm can come to rely on it as a method of coping, using it as a way of releasing their feelings of distress in order to feel better and cope better. Sufferers often talk about the build up of emotions such as anger, self-loathing, guilt, and panic– of being trapped by their situation as well as with their negative thoughts and feelings. Self-harming can provide relief.
The size, amount or severity of injury does not equate to the person’s depth of feelings. In other words just because the harming may appear superficial, don’t assume that your child is feeling only a little bit distressed and doesn’t need your help.”
My Suggested Action Plan – information I have obtained directly from parents’ experiences of caring for a child who self-harms.
- Keep lines of communication open; talk to them but more importantly listen and show that you are interested in the issues that they are going through. Suggest a day out together, but go with the aim to spend time with them rather than an opportunity to confront or question. Letters and emails can also be a useful first point of contact and can be a great way for you to convey your support and love. Don’t be disheartened if they reject your attempts, it can be very hard as a sufferer to accept help and it can take them a while to open up. Don’t give up, try again and keep trying.
- Try to show care and offer help with any injuries, however hard this may be for you as a parent. Injuries are often superficial, but watch out for them becoming more serious and needing further medical treatment. Read up on your first aid skills keep your medical supplies well stocked and consider attending a first aid course.
- Identify any factors that trigger an episode of harming. Stress, anxiety and frustration can be common triggers and it can help to unpack the cause of these feelings and create solutions. Not only can this potentially prevent an episode (now and in the future), but it can be a useful exercise to work through together, so that they too can learn to recognise the warning signs and begin to take charge of their emotions.
- It is tempting to want to be with them at all times. Rather than infringing on their own space, highlight that you are always there for them (this will encourage them to come to you when they feel most vulnerable and possibly prevent an episode). Suggest a few days out or trips that you can do with them or with a friend so that they have something to look forward to. Having something positive on the horizon really helps give the sufferer a focus.
“Initially I’ll admit I was angry with her, I thought it was something she could easily stop and by not doing so she was being disobedient. As I began to read up about it and take advice, I realised there was an addictive aspect to it as well as many emotional factors and a slower approach had to be taken.’
My Suggested Action Plan – (information I have obtained directly from parent’s experiences of caring for a child who self-harms)
- Men can often struggle with the emotional side of self-harm, which is perfectly normal and understandable. Admit this and try to confide in another male, a friend, doctor or counsellor who can see the situation from your perspective and provide practical advice.
- Appreciate the extra strain this is putting you under. Communicate with your partner, especially if you are separated or divorced and remember that a united approach is better for you and the whole family.
- Remember that your child needs a father’s love and support just as much as a mother’s and therefore your role in their recovery is vital.
- Build their self-esteem, encourage them to recognise their personal qualities and motivate them to work towards a future goal. Use your powers of logic and reasoning to help them problem solve. As a sufferer, an episode can be brought on by feeling overwhelmed emotionally. Help them to overcome these feelings by writing their concerns down on paper and go through them one by one. By separating the emotion from the problem and having a plan with manageable steps, you can help them to see more clearly, thereby reducing anxiety.