Could Your Child be Self-Harming?

self harming talk

Reading time: 4 minutes

Suitable for: Families with children of all ages

Some children purposely hurt themselves and we know the number of children self harming is on the rise. They may be going through a particularly challenging time and feel unable to cope.

It can be their way to manage overwhelming emotions, or feelings of panic and anxiety. Other children self-harm because they feel numb and struggle to feel anything. 

Important messages:

  • Self-harming should always be taken seriously
  • You are not alone, there is help available
  • Many children and young people self-harm
  • Children who self-harm do not always attempt suicide
  •  This is not just a “phase” or attention-seeking behaviour

It can be an incredibly stressful time for you as a parent if your child self-harms. You may worry about doing or saying the wrong thing and making things worse. But, if your child is self-harming, it’s a sign that something isn’t right in their life, and they need immediate help. 

Signs your child may be self harming

It can be hard to know if your child is self-harming, however, there are some signs you can look out for. 

Common signs:

  • Unexplained injuries such as bites, burns, bruises, cuts, and bald patches
  • Bloody tissues in the bin or hidden in their room
  • Keeping themselves covered up and avoiding getting changed around others
  • Avoiding activities such as swimming where more of their body will be exposed
  • Low mood, depression, or talking about being useless or a failure
  • Becoming increasingly withdrawn from friends and family
  • Sudden outbursts of anger

You may not have any evidence your child is self-harming, but just feel that something isn’t right. If you are worried, it’s always best to seek help immediately. Acting early is the best way to get support for your child.

Worried parent talks to teenager about self harming

Talking with your child about self harming

You might feel anxious about talking with your child about your concerns, but it’s always best to be open about worries. You could talk while doing something, like taking a walk or cooking, to reduce the pressure.

Tell your child you’re proud of them for sharing how they’re feeling with you. Empathise and reassure them you’ll get through this together.

Often children who self-harm feel ashamed about what they’re doing, which just increases the pressure they feel under. Don’t force them to talk with you if they don’t feel ready.

They may prefer to write you a letter or perhaps talk to a trusted family friend. There may be a designated member of staff at their school they could meet with.

Finding help

  • If your child is in immediate danger, call 999 or take them to an A+E department for immediate help
  • Talk to your GP for advice, further referrals, and to treat any injuries
  • Young Minds have a comprehensive parent guide about self-harm and a free 24/7 text service by texting YM to 85258
  • ChildLine is for young people under the age of 19. It provides a confidential helpline and online chat options
  • The Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116123 if you just need someone to talk to about your worries 

Further support

We have a range of online courses if you’re worried your child may be self-harming or feeling suicidal:

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