THE BLOG

What To Do If You Find Out That Your Child Is Self-Harming

14/09/2016 15:51

Jo Hardy is Parent Services Manager at YoungMinds, leading on parent engagement and the charity's award winning Parents Helpline. She is parent to two children with mental health issues.

As a parent, everything we do is geared towards providing for our children - nurturing them, guiding them, and keeping them safe. We are constantly in 'parent flight mode', protecting young people from threats in the world around them, such as online pressures, exam stress or abuse.

So when a threat materialises but is internal, directed by your child towards themselves, it can hit you hard. If you've discovered your child is struggling with self-harm, you - like the majority of parents who call the YoungMinds Parents Helpline - probably won't have seen it coming, and will have been knocked for six.

Parents often blame themselves, saying 'How did I not stop this from happening?'

But in reality it's very unlikely to be your fault, and you probably haven't done anything wrong. Young people might self-harm when they can't cope with overwhelming emotional feelings or psychological pain. Self-harming translates this into localised physical pain, giving young people an emotional release, or a feeling of a control.

We know, in these situations, that it is important to have good relationships to fall back on, and for children to know that their parents will be there to support them. Here are some tips to help.

1) Talk to your child

It's really important to have open and honest conversations with your children.

This can be hard to do. Parents are often working, or busy with family commitments, as well as with other caring responsibilities and running a home. At the same time children and young people are often glued to their phones and gadgets, engaging in lots of social and extra-curricular activities, and are pushed from all corners - driven to succeed at school, overwhelmed by pressures from living their lives online, worrying about a million things that weren't even on the radar when we parents were young people ourselves.

It's important to reinforce the fact that we love our kids every now and then, even when they aren't cooperating, and may not seem open to hearing this. Praise your child and encourage them. It will be there, at the back of their mind, when they need some extra support. Gentle reminders are great at keeping the channels open so that it isn't too hard for them to approach you if they need you.

Focus on the good things, the easy wins. I recommend doing a face pack or kicking about in the park together - you then have a captive audience and time to chat!

2) Take care of yourself

Parents often feel that they are doing a bad job, and are inadequate. This is especially the case where mental health is concerned.

Parenting isn't easy. No-one else has to provide a child with as much time, energy and care to help them grow and thrive. But to do this, parents also need to take care of themselves. You are the most important person in your child's life. Even more so when things are tough, and you may need to fight to get the support your child needs.

When parents ring our Helpline, we can give them tips to help them manage their child's behaviour and support their wellbeing. But one of the most important things we do for parents is to put them back in the driving seat, and reassure them that they are doing a great job.

We encourage parents to give themselves permission to not be perfect, but to be good enough. This might involve thinking about things you can do to promote your own wellbeing - a soak in a nice bath, a takeaway or a chocolate treat, or a walk with the dog. These can help parents to dust themselves off, and pick up from where they left off.

3) Don't be afraid to ask for help

It can be really hard to keep your head above water when things are tough. Finding a sense of hope can be a turning point. Even if it's hard to see, it's out there somewhere - more elusive than anything Pokémon Go can throw at you, but definitely more rewarding in the long run.

As a parent, you might not hold all the answers, but you do know your children. Don't be afraid to ask for help. It is always better to try and any problems as soon as possible.

Trust your instinct and trust your judgement - and don't be brushed aside. Talk to your GP or to friends and family, or call our Parents Helpline.

You can contact YoungMinds' Parents' Helpline on 0800 018 2138 (Open Mon-Fri 10am - 4pm & Wed 6pm - 8pm) www.youngminds.org.uk

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