Supporting Your Child Through Self Harm:

Therapy Tips for Parents

It’s painful for a parent to watch their child in pain. Feelings of hopelessness and frustration are common when you see them hurting and can’t magically make the pain disappear, an inevitable reality in every parent’s journey. And these feelings only intensify when you learn your child is engaging in self-harm. 

Self-harm can be an isolated event or an ongoing behavior of an individual intentionally hurting themselves. Because it is done without the intention to commit suicide, therapists often refer to it as NSSI, or non-suicidal self injury. NSSI is often a reflection of deeper emotional turmoil and serves as an avenue to release the pain of those feelings.

Wondering what thoughts and actions led your child to this moment, knowing where to begin in the healing journey can be overwhelming. At Decade2Connect, we see many families struggling with self-harm. The good news is that with proper support, self-harm is a habit that can be broken. So how can you support your child?

Seek Professional HelpWhen your child’s physical well being is at risk, it’s important to seek professional help, especially when you don’t have a solution. Consult with your child’s doctor, a mental health professional, or a crisis hotline for guidance and support. While self-harm is often not associated with suicidality, it’s important to take any bodily harm seriously.
Stay Calm and SupportiveSelf-harm is oftentimes a cry for help, the only source of release your child can find. If you’re scared, it’s likely they are too. Your support is crucial as you begin to address this issue. What they need is not reprimand but support as they navigate through these big emotions. If they feel punished, it’s likely they will shut down, instead of invite you in on the process.
Open CommunicationMake space for your child to express their emotions. Whether anger, sadness or anxiety, there are complex emotions attached to any decision to self-harm. Through asking specific and empathetic questions, try to understand the motive behind their decision to engage in self-harm. Knowing that they are heard and understood may release some of the feelings of loneliness associated with this behavior.
Advocate for Your ChildIt’s possible your child either doesn’t want to address their self harm tendencies or doesn’t know how. As a parent, educate yourself on the resources available and make the best decisions for your child, even if it’s ones they aren’t happy with. In the long run, they’ll be grateful for your ability to advocate for their mental health and physical wellbeing when they weren’t able to.
Create a Safety PlanWork with your child and mental health professional to create a safety plan. This plan should include strategies to help your child cope with their emotions and avoid self-harm behaviors. Furthermore, remove or limit access to any objects that could be used as a tool in self-harm, specifically ones your child has used in the past. Removing these objects from your child’s environment will both reduce risk of injury and show them they’re not alone.

As a parent, it’s important to remember that this is not your fault. As children grow, their emotions become more complex and it’s impossible to be a part of every feeling they experience. If you’re feeling guilt or shame, talk to someone about it. Releasing the narrative that this is your fault is crucial in both your own healing, as well as your child’s. Talk to your partner, your friends or a mental health professional about the feelings you’re experiencing, instead of holding onto these negative emotions. You are doing the best you can!

We understand the severity of NSSI and the fear that comes with it. Here at Decade2Connect, we’re here to support your family through this journey and believe with the proper support, hope and harmony is possible for your family. For more support, please reach out to one of our therapists.

Our Intensive Outpatient Program is in-network with United!