This guidance is modelled on the NSPCC structure for managing Self-harm https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/self-harm/
Self-harm can take lots of physical forms, including cutting, burning, bruising, scratching, hair-pulling, poisoning, starving, binge eating, overdosing and over exercising.
There are many reasons why children and young people try to hurt themselves. And once they start, it can become a compulsion. That's why it's so important to spot it as soon as possible and do everything you can to help.
Self-harm isn’t usually a suicide attempt or a cry for attention. Instead, it’s often a way for young people to release overwhelming emotions. It’s a way of coping. So whatever the reason, it should be taken seriously.
Self-harm is the fourth most common concern that children and young people contact ChildLine about. There were over 19,000 ChildLine counselling sessions about self-harm in 2014/15.
Typically, a small number of children at Chesswood Junior School (less than 5) become involved in acts of self-harm each academic year. Overwhelmingly they are within upper year groups Year 6 and previously Year 7) and undertake acts of scratching or cutting skin, usually forearms or wrists with sharp objects including sharp plastic laminated sheet
Why Children Harm Themselves
The exact reasons why children and young people decide to hurt themselves aren't always easy to work out. In fact, they might not even know exactly why they do it.
There are links between depression and self-harm. Quite often a child or young person who is self-harming is being bullied, under too much pressure to do well at school, being emotionally abused, grieving or having relationship problems with family or friends.
The feelings that these issues bring up can include:
- low self-esteem and low confidence
- lack of control over their lives
Often, the physical pain of self-harm might feel easier to deal with than the emotional pain that's behind it. It can also make a young person feel they're in control of at least one part of their lives.
Sometimes it can also be a way for them to punish themselves for something they've done or have been accused of doing.
What parents can do if they discover a child is self-harming
- Stay calm and avoid judging your child, even if you are upset. Be supportive.
- Understand that your child is often self-harming to manage emotions and/or to communicate distress - they may want you to notice the self-harm so that non-verbal communication of distress is received.
- Listen and talk to your child and try to understand what is prompting the behaviour. Be empathic and non-judgemental.
- Convey to your child that you want to understand their difficulties and support your child to find new ways of coping.
- Try to remove the temptation of self-harm, if possible, by encouraging your child to avoid situations in which they could self-harm.
- Help your child think about why they are self-harming by asking if there is anything that can be done about the cause or if something else needs to change to make things better for the child.
- Make a list of people your child can talk to such as you or your partner, other relatives, a teacher, or friends of the family.
- Depending on your child's age, encourage talking about feelings; writing them down; drawing them; breathing exercises, or physical activity as a way to relieve stress and anxiety.
- If your child's behaviour is not changing or if you suspect they might be depressed, ask your doctor for advice. Depression and anxiety can be treated in many ways.
If you are struggling to start a conversation with your child or young person access the young minds conversation prompts documents here
Talking About Mental Health With Your Child | YoungMinds
For more information on supporting a child or young person who is self-harming access the link below Self-Harm & Mental Health | Guide For Parents | YoungMinds
“My advice would be to never give up on them however severe the self-harm becomes. Don’t push them away, love them even more. Approach with ease, the more you blow up at them the more they'll want to spiral back to that dark hole and self-harm. Everyone that self-harms are crying out to be saved from the feelings of darkness. Gentle love” – West Sussex Parent