It isn’t easy finding out your child is hurting themselves, but it’s important to talk to and offer ongoing help. Thankfully Head Above The Waves is here to give some advice on how to keep supporting someone who self-harms.
Now you have had that first conversation about self harm with your child it’s important to not sweep it under the rug. To make sure you’re putting some support in place for them.
It’s OK to not have all the answers immediately, and it’s OK to take some time to do your research. Just remember to keep lines of communication open and offer support, even if it’s just being there to listen. This may not be something that just goes away instantly so take it seriously and be prepared to offer ongoing support.
The first thing to note, would be not to take away their blades or whatever they use to injure themselves with. This can lead them to find different or more dangerous ways of hurting themselves and can cause a lot more harm. Let them know that if they want you to dispose of their equipment then you are more than happy too when they feel ready.
Harm reduction and keeping healthy
Then talk to them about harm reduction, dressing their injuries, keeping the wounds clean and not interfering with them healing as this can cause more permanent scars and increase the risk of infection. If you’re unsure about how to explain any of these you can ask your GP or find information through NHS Direct. Treat the injury, but also make sure you’re trying to treat the cause of the self-harm.
Accept that your young person may not want help just yet. Maybe this is something they want to work through on their own, in their own time. But knowing you are there for them with support when they’re ready can be a massive help.
Don’t smother them and stop them from having time to themselves. Don’t ask to see the injuries or check their bodies. This is a horrible invasion of privacy and can cause a lot of distress. Give them your respect and your trust, whilst explaining you care for them. Hope that by respecting them they’ll respect you too and be honest and open with you.
Don’t tell everyone in the family unit unless your young person is OK with you doing so. If you do need to speak to others so there is a support network in place for you and for them, then remember to ask them to be discreet, and treat the young person exactly as they have done before. It’s also OK to ask them not to bring it up with the young person or ask to see their injuries. Keep the young person informed of who you’re speaking to and check it’s OK frequently.
Find quiet comfortable spaces to check in with your child every day or once a week. This could be a cup of tea when they get in from school, whilst walking the dog together, or at the dinner table – whatever suits you and your family.
No demands, no ultimatums
Don’t demand that your young person stops self-harming immediately or doesn’t get better straight away after confiding in you. This can be a long and delicate process – so having a contract in place, bargaining or making a deal such as “If you stop self-harming we’ll go on holiday” or “I’ll buy you those trainers if you stop” is not going to be helpful and will put too much pressure on them.
It will also make the young person feel awful if they don’t meet your imposed deadlines. Don’t give them an ultimatum either – you’re trying to get them to open up and trust you, so you can’t force their hand to stop by threatening actions that may push them away.
When you come across something you don’t know how to deal with, Google can be your best friend. Get clued up, get informed, see what support is out there and speak through the options with your young person.
Whether you look up counsellors, support groups, websites, online forums, download some apps like Calm, Breathe or Headspace, or even take a trip to your GP for some advice. Having some options of support when you speak to your young person is helpful and shows you care enough to want to help them get better.
Try and find the time
It’s OK to not always be free and at your child’s side at the drop of a hat. You may have other children, work and general life things that get thrown your way. Yes of course you love your child and want to do as much for them as possible but there are boundaries and as much as you want to help and support them. Your child needs to help themselves and learn some resilience.
Giving them space is fine, but make sure you are putting aside time every day to focus on just them and let them talk. Maybe just a quick chat sometimes when you’re busy but with the promise of some proper quality time on the weekend when you’re more free.
Use your experiences to empathise with them and what they’re going through but don’t make it about you. Listening is going to be the key action here. Explaining that you’ve had tough times in your life and how you got through them can be helpful and can break down barriers.
But keep in mind that everyone is different and everyone’s situations are unique. Focus on the young person and what they’re going through. Most importantly just be there, be engaged, really listen and if they want one, give them a great big hug.
The main thing to do is just keep being there and keep being supportive and loving whilst your child recovers and moves forward with their lives.
Just be there.
This article was written by Heads Above The Waves – a non-profit organisation who raise awareness of self-harm among young people, and promote creative ways of dealing with the bad days. Visit their website for advice, information and inspiration.
If you’d like to find out about services available to you and your child in your areas or would like to chat about family matters in general, get in touch with the FamilyPoint Cymru helpline.
- Phone: 0300 222 57 57
- Text: 07860 052 905
- Instant message (see top of page)
We are open 6pm – 10pm Monday to Thursday and 10am – 2pm Friday & Saturday.
If you are worried that you child is self-harming, or want to more about it, then Head Above The Waves have written a number of blogs offering support and advice.
Check out some others:
- Self-harm as a Teenager: Si’s Story
- Self-Harm: Helpful Reactions As A Parent
- Self-Harm: Unhelpful Ways To Talk About It
- 4 Ways To Start Talking About Self-Harm