How do I respond to my child who self-injures?

 

Parents and carers are often the first to access professional help for their son or daughter who self-injures. However, parents are carers can be unsure how to respond to their children who self-injure, and may express anxiety, frustration, shock, and helplessness when responding to their child’s self-injury.

 

Parents and carers may also deny that their child has self-injured, or feel guilt and shame that their child self-injured, and stigma for having a child who self-injures. Although these feelings and reactions are completed understandable and natural, these responses can have a negative impact on adolescents who self-injure.

Do

 

  • Respond to your child in a calm, caring, and non-judgmental way.

  • Offer to listen to your child and accept their feelings and experiences.

  • Accept that your child may not know why they self-injured.

  • Reassure your child that you care about them and that there are people who can help them.

  • Create an open dialogue with your child and let them know that you are there to listen.

  • Seek help from a mental health professional or service with your child. Involving your child in the decision to seek professional help can help your child feel more comfortable about the process. 

  • Give yourself a break. It can be hard to help your child who self-injures.

  • Stay hopeful and remain patient. Recovery from self-injury takes time, but many adolescents who self-injury learn to use alternative coping strategies

Do not

 

  • Yell at your child or make threats, ultimatums, or accusations.

  • Show your child if you are shocked, frustrated, or angry.

  • Punish your child for engaging in self-injury.

  • Tell your child to “just stop it.” While most adolescents who self-injure would like to stop engaging in the behaviour, many rely on the behaviour to cope.

  • Make assumptions about why your child self-injured (including assuming that your child is suicidal or attention-seeking).

  • Ignore the behaviour and hope that it is just a phase or trend.