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

White curve
Speaking with other family members and friends

Sharing your concerns with others can be very helpful, but it is important to think carefully about who you tell about your child’s self-harming.

You will need to carefully consider the possible reactions of others and balance your child’s need for privacy with your personal need for support.

Sharing with others

Many parents say secrecy can make things more difficult. It can add to the pressure on both parents and child, and take away sources of valuable help and comfort from other family members.

Talking to people you trust can be a huge help to all. If you haven’t told family members or close friends yet, you might consider speaking to a counsellor or calling a helpline to work through your feelings.

Speaking with a professional confidentially can help you decide how and when you might broach the topic of your child’s self-harm with friends and family.

Telling family members

You and your child can think together about how much you want to tell other family members, including brothers and sisters, about the self-harm.

  • Explain to other children and close family that your child is going through a difficult time - you do not have to give details
  • Siblings may feel angry or that their brother or sister who is self-harming is being selfish and causing distress in the family; this is a perfectly normal reaction
  • Remember that you are still the parent: don’t be afraid to set boundaries on your child’s behaviour (for example, how they treat and interact with their siblings)
  • Try to help your other children manage their feelings; they need your attention and support as well
  • Watch for similar behaviours in your other children, and be mindful of the ‘ripple effect’ on the wider family
  • Remind your child of other ways to cope - for example, helpful activities such as talking with others, relaxation, sports or art projects
  • Listen to them and remind them that you love them.

The wider family may or may not understand why a child would self-harm. You and your immediate family will have to think carefully about how they might react and how you want to manage this before deciding whether to speak openly about your child’s self-harming.

As soon as you mention family mental health problems to a friend, it is quite common to have them reply: ‘Do you know, I have that as well.'

HealthTalk.org parent interview

 

Attending to your needs >

 

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

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