Understanding Self Injury: A Guide for Parents -by Emily Hasselquist, LCSW

What is Self Injury?

Self Injury can be a difficult subject to discuss with your child.  It is the act of deliberately harming oneself in order to ease emotional pain or discomfort. Common forms of self injury include cutting, burning or scratching. The physical pain associated with self injury can become soothing and even addictive for some.  Children and teenagers who self injure may be dealing with anxiety or depression and use it as a way to cope with and calm these distressing feelings. For some, self injury is secretive.  Others use it as a way to communicate emotional pain to those around them.

How Can I Help?

Finding out your child or teenager is self injuring can be upsetting.  Many parents find it hard to understand the behavior and are unsure of how to address it with their child.  You may think they are doing it for attention or just going through a “phase.”   Some parents react with anger, blame, or punishment. These reactions can end up pushing your child away and send a message that you are not willing to discuss the issue with them. Communicate to them that you are available to talk about their self injury and the struggles they are going through.  It is helpful to validate their feelings, or acknowledge the difficult emotions they are experiencing.  Let your child know that you are going to work together to find them help to develop healthier coping skills.  Remember to also respond in a non-judgmental way. Your child may not know how to stop this behavior, and they need your support.

Typically children and teens that self-injure are not suicidal but it may be necessary to consult a mental health professional to assess their risk.  If you are concerned about your child self injuring, the staff at Gurnee Counseling Center can help.  Please contact us at 847-336-5621 for further information.