Supporting Your Child if They are Self-Harming

self-harming girl sits on bed hugging herself

Reading time: 5 minutes

Suitable for: Parents and carers of children and young people who are self-harming

All we want as parents and carers is to keep our children safe, so if we find out our child is self-harming, it can feel as if our whole world is crashing down around us.

We torment ourselves with questions: How long has this been going on? Is it my fault? How can I help? Why didn’t they tell me? Feeling powerless, helpless and confused, we go round and round in circles, desperately searching for answers.

Although discovering that our child is in pain, both physically and mentally, can feel overwhelming, we need to try and be emotionally available and regulated so that we can best support them to break the cycle of self-harm.

Self-harm as a symptom

The fact is, self-harm is a symptom, not only the cause, of our child’s pain and distress, and understanding why children self-harm in the first place is an important starting point when considering what kind of support to offer.

Children self-harm for varied and complex reasons. Self-harming gives them a sense of control when everything else feels out of control. According to the mental health charity, Young Minds, self-harm is a coping mechanism (although an unhelpful one) to deal with difficult emotions, such as anger, grief, frustration and fear.

When these overwhelming feelings threaten to engulf them, children and young people self-harm to relieve the tension and pressure. The relief is immediate, but temporary, and very soon, they are caught in an endless cycle of shame and self-destruction.

Barriers to support

As terrifying as self-harm is for both parents and children, getting help is not always straightforward. Older children and teenagers are notoriously secretive and if they are feeling anxious or ashamed about what they are doing, they might be less likely to open up to us.


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