Coping with self-harm: a guide for parents and carers
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.
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:
Royal College of Nursing
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Royal College of General Practitioners
and funded by the National Institute for Health Research
Asking for help (young person)
A simple guide for young people to help talk about their feelings.View resource
Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depressionView resource
Guide to depression for parents and carers
This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their childView resource
Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)
This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their childView resource
Low mood poster
Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.View resource
Making the move to university: care leavers
Read how to look after your mental health if you are starting university after being in care.View resource
Making the move to university: international students
Moving to university is especially tough for those who are coming from another country. Don't forget to make sure you prioritise your mental health, and read how to do so here.View resource
Making the move to university: LGBTQ+ students
Read our resource on how you can best take care of your mental health when making the transition to university if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community.View resource
Making the move to university: not fitting in
Read our guide on how to protect your wellbeing if you are starting university and feel like you may not fit in in any way.View resource
Making the move to university: students with adverse childhood experiences
Resource for those starting university who have had adverse childhood experiences such as trauma or abuse.View resource
Making the move to university: young carers
Read how to access support and prioritise your mental health while transitioning to university as a young carer.View resource
Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.View resource
Supporting a child with anxiety
A guide for parents and carers to help understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it.View resource
Warning signs poster
A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.View resource
Wellbeing Action Plan (child)
A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult timesView resource
A simple, journal to help young people think about and write down the things which make them feel good.View resource
Was this article helpful?Your feedback helps us create better content so if this article helped, please leave a like below and let others know.
The Charlie Waller Trust
The Charlie Waller Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales 1109984. A company limited by guarantee. Registered company in England and Wales 5447902. Registered address: The Charlie Waller Trust, First Floor, 23 Kingfisher Court, Newbury, Berkshire, RG14 5SJ.
Copyright © 2023 The Charlie Waller Trust. All rights reserved.