Coping with self-harm: a guide for parents and carers 

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Is your child self-harming?

As a parent or carer, you might suspect that your child is self-harming. Changes in behaviour or physical signs may have indicated this to you, even if you have not spoken with your child about it yet.

Warning signs

If you are worried, watch out for these signs:

  • Unexplained cuts, burns or bruises
  • Keeping themselves covered; avoiding swimming or being reluctant to change clothes around others
  • Being withdrawn or isolated from friends or family
  • Low mood, a lack of interest in life or depression
  • Blaming themselves for problems or expressing feelings of failure, uselessness, hopelessness or anger.

Finding out about self-harm

Discovering that your child is self-harming can be very upsetting and stressful.

Some children may tell their parents about their self-harm; other parents might find out from friends, teachers or medical staff.

A range of emotions may be experienced by parents. These include anger, sadness, helplessness, shame or disgust.

It is perfectly normal to feel strong emotions. It’s important to try and understand and accept them so that you don’t risk misdirecting these emotions towards your vulnerable child.

Try to reframe their behaviour and think of it as an expression of deep emotions they can’t handle any other way.

“We worked out that if she sent me a blank text, I knew she needed some company or a cuddle or some distraction.”

HealthTalk.org parent interview

 

Understand why they might be self-harming >

 

This content has been adapted from “Coping with self-harm, a Guide for Parents and Carers, produced by University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research in association with:

Young Minds

Royal College of Nursing

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Royal College of General Practitioners

and funded by the National Institute for Health Research

Resources

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Read how to access support and prioritise your mental health while transitioning to university as a young carer.

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Wellbeing Journal

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