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

White curve
What parents can do to help

If you are a parent or carer of a self-harming child, it is only natural that you will feel deeply concerned and worried about your child's wellbeing.

Yet there are practical and positive ways in which you can support your child through these times.

Have a conversation, but don’t bring up self-harm right away

Make time for an open conversation with your child. Try to talk about wider topics and shared interests rather than immediately confronting the big issue that you want to discuss.

Organise this around another activity, like a walk or drive

A change of setting from the family home can lead to a more honest discussion. Look to spend time together in an environment where you both feel comfortable.

Ask if anything is worrying them and how they are feeling

It’s important to ask open questions rather than ‘yes/no’ questions and let your child lead the course of the conversation. It may be that you need to have a few talks together before you can raise the subject of self-harm.

Let them know that you are not judging them

This is an opportunity to reassure your child and be there for them. Make it clear that you are not being judgemental or putting them down; your child always needs to know that you love them and that this will not change.

Show that you are prepared to listen

A listening ear from a caring adult can give a vulnerable child the opportunity to express their concerns in a positive and cathartic way. Try to avoid asking too many questions or interjecting; let your child speak about what is troubling them.

If your child does not want to talk, see if they will speak to you in a different way

Self-harm is not an easy topic to speak about, for parent or child. If your child does not want to talk with you about it, that’s perfectly understandable and normal. Instead, ask if they will write you a note, email or text message describing how they feel.

Ask if they would rather speak to someone else

Your child may prefer to open up to another trusted adult instead of you. It may be easier for them to openly share their feelings with someone outside of your family. If this is the case, arrange an appointment with your GP or recommend a counsellor or helpline

Try to help them identify triggers

If your child is able to open up with you about their self-harm, see if you can help them work out feelings and situations that may be triggering it. You may need to also seek advice and expert support from a trained counsellor or mental health professional, but it is helpful if you can personally understand the key drivers that lie behind the self-harming.

Look to identify ways to handle strong feelings

Through open conversation, try and work together with your child to think of ways to handle and deal with strong feelings. There are many alternatives to suggest that don’t involve self-harm.

Help them see possible solutions

Seeing the situation from your child’s perspective is important, as is helping your child to find possible solutions. Explore their problems together and look for more positive ways to resolve these.

Encourage them to think about the long view

It can be all too easy to fall into catastrophic thought patterns, especially as a vulnerable young person. The guidance of a caring adult can be calming and reassuring. By listening and showing empathy, help your child to see that things may change for the better in the future.

 

When to seek further help >

 

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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