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It can be shocking and frightening to find out that your child self-harms. Maybe you found out through one of their friends, or they told you themselves. The first reaction would be to get upset and angry at your child for hurting themselves, this reaction stems from fear that this harming might be a sign of suicidal intent… or that it may lead to suicide. However, this type of reaction can only lead to the child closing in on themselves, and not feel safe to open up to you.

Instead, here are some things to do, and some things to avoid:

  • Do some reading on Non-suicidal self-injury. Notice that it’s not a way of seeking attention, but a way to communicate and regulate very strong emotions.
  • Learn how to regulate your own stress levels and difficult emotions. Seek help and support so that you can be a positive role model for your child.
  • Having direct conversations on self harm might not be all that helpful, particularly since it can lead to conflicts or to you trying to convince the child why they shouldn’t self harm.
  • Make an effort to connect with your child. Share a hobby together, do some activities with each other. This is a way of building safety and trust between you.
  • Encourage your child to exercise. Maybe you can start cycling together, or going for a morning jog.
  • When your child starts to stop self-injuring, they may end up more irritable or volatile. They may also end up taking on other negative ways of coping, such as over or undereating. This is a normal part of the process, as they’re trying to figure out the best way to cope with their emotions.
  • Show your child that you appreciate the positive steps that they make.

While it can be terrifying to parent a child that self-injures, there are some positive steps that you can take as a parent to help your child through this difficult phase.

Mel McElhatton holds a degree in Social Work from the University of Malta. With Willingness, Mel does life coaching and is one of the facilitators in the IRL – In Real Life team. They are also the producer of the radio show Niddiskutu s-Sess. They can be contacted on mel@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.