Do you have any advice for parents of teens who self-harm? This is a terrifying truth that many parents have to face. We want to help you help your teen. Let this Parenting Domain post be an instrument of healing for your child.
Advice for Parents of Teens: Defining Self-Harm
Self-harm is an act of intentionally causing harm or pain on oneself. This is usually done by teens that are under a lot of emotional turmoil or by those who cannot cope with stress.
Those who self-harm use this as a method to escape their pain, anger, confusion, or other pent up feelings. Other times, they perform this to castigate themselves. This is often done when the said problematic person is alone but there are other instances when the person does this in the presence of others.
Some examples of self-harm are ingesting poison, cutting, banging the head against a hard surface, and hitting oneself with an object.
Advice for Parents of Teens: Tell-tale Signs
These are warning signs that you need to look out to detect if your teenager is using self-harm:
- Change in usual behavior, withdrawn or detached
- Poor performance in school and at home
- Wearing long sleeves and pants to hide the cuts and burns
- Low self-esteem
- Problems in relationships with peers or loved ones
- Uncontrollable and unmanageable emotions
Advice for Parents of Teens: Effective Intervention
Please do not hesitate to take your teen to a therapist if you see any of the signs above. Doing so will help you determine if the child’s intention of self-harm is to commit suicide or not. Apart from giving a professional assessment, the therapist can give your teen some helpful points to deal with his or her feelings.
You can help your teen stay away from this “addictive” behavior too. You can intervene and help him stay away from self-harming. These are things that you can do:
1. Set an environment that is full of positives. Your child has to have an example that he or she can emulate when faced with difficulties. Be that good example. When you feel like your world is crumbling and that you cannot take the stress anymore, envision a beautiful place. Vividly describe the place. Talk about this aloud in front of your teen. Talk about great and happy memories that you can always look back on.
2. Make a box of happiness. This box functions pretty much like the happy meal wherein there are stuff inside that will make you happy. For the box, you can place items that your teen can use every time the urge to self-harm arises.
It can be drawing or painting supplies, arts and crafts materials, pictures of friends or loved ones, CD of his favorite songs. Put in anything that makes him happy.
3. Give alternative to self-harm. Stopping the self-harm habit is difficult so give your child less harmful alternatives. You can suggest ripping paper, punching a pillow, or holding an ice cube.
4. Suggest extra-curricular activities. Engaging in physical activities releases feel-good chemicals that can improve your teen’s mood. For this reason, encourage your child to exercise, go running, or play sports. If sports is not just his cup of tea, let him or her dance. Better yet, have him play with your pet.
5. Be patient. As I mentioned in item number 3, stopping the habit is not easy so just be patient. It will take time. Your teen may “relapse” from time to time so do not judge or overreact. Overly criticizing or scolding your child will only take him back to his self-harming ways so you need to endure this.
6. Talk it out. Ask him about the triggers that make him want to hurt himself. These triggers can be people, negative feelings, or even events. Talking helps calm your child. You can also impart your knowledge or coping strategies that your child can use during certain situations.
The best advice for parents of teens who self harm is to be there for them. In addition, take them to a mental health professional for assessment, and help them find ways to cope with stress in a healthy and constructive way. It won’t be easy but correcting this early will be a huge help.