I'm worried my kid is self-injuring. What can I do?

Shared in partnership with the Child Mind Institute.

Intentionally cutting or scratching the skin to alleviate distress is common among teenagers. Kids who engage in non-suicidal self-injury can find online communities where people talk about cutting or other forms of self-harm. Some of these people might be sharing advice about how to stop, while others may be advocates for self-harm. This means that kids who are seeking connection with others online are at risk of connecting with people who nurture self-destructive behavior. In addition to the guidelines below, it's important for parents to be aware that kids may be engaged in these risky online relationships and should include disengaging from them as part of their recovery. (Visit the Child Mind Institute to learn more about self-injury.)

What is self-injury?

Self-injury is characterized by deliberately injuring oneself to alleviate some kind of emotional distress. The most common form of self-injury is cutting or scratching the skin, but people also self-injure by burning themselves, picking at skin and wounds, or hitting themselves. Self-injury is more common in girls than boys, and onset is often around puberty.

Signs your child may be self-harming:

  • Talking about self-injury
  • Suspicious-looking scars
  • Wounds that don’t heal or get worse
  • Cuts on the same place
  • Increased isolation
  • Collecting sharp tools such as shards of glass, safety pins, nail scissors, etc.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts in warm weather
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Wearing a lot of Band-Aids
  • Refusing to go into the locker room or change clothes in school

How to help

If you discover that a child has been hurting herself, it’s important to have her evaluated by an experienced mental health professional to find out why she is self-injuring and what emotional difficulties she’s experiencing.

Different kinds of therapy have been shown to help, including:

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): In this kind of therapy, a psychologist works with your child to help her learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings like anger, anxiety, and rejection without resorting to cutting.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): In CBT, a psychologist teaches your child to recognize and challenge negative, distressing thoughts and train herself to think outside of them.

Family therapy: If there are distressing things going on at home -- conflict, job loss, a death -- family therapy may be helpful.

A doctor may also prescribe medication if a person who is self-harming is also struggling with a disorder such as depression.

Learn more about the Child Mind Institute, an independent, national nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disabilities
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Comments

Kid, 12 years old

DONT FREAK OUT OR MAKE THEM GO TO THE COUNSELOR!! My parents freaked out and made me go to the counselor and I wasn’t doing anything. Talk to your kid first, and don’t blame them!
Teen, 15 years old written by abstracts0ul

It all depends on your relationship with your child. Some kids have good relationships with their parents and some don’t; if you feel that you have a good relationship with your child, I would try talking to them about your concerns respectfully. If you yell at them or blame them, they’re obviously going to be less likely to share their side of the story with you. After that, if you’re SURE that they’re self-harming and they’re unwilling to confide in you, it’s important that you seek professional help (i.e., a doctor, therapist, etc.). You are the parent, though, so stick with your gut feeling. Do what you feel is best for you and your child.
Teen, 13 years old written by rainbowspidrz

From personal experiences, take them to see someone and try to find and fix what's behind it, and then fix the injuring, don't freak out or it'll make things worse.
Parent of a 8 year old written by LyndaC99

also coming from personal experience, the parent themselves should take the initial step in finding out the problem in a calm and collective manner. before just taking the child to an expert to be evaluated. once the parent has found the situation out and addressed it then it would be a good course of action to see an expert to help sort out and repair the child's emotions. by taking these small steps it will be better for the kid because it's not rushing and the parent was also part of helping the kid. now if the child was stubborn then i is best to be assertive in fixing the problem. there is a direct approach and if failed the last option is a medical professional.