Some teenagers cut (or burn) themselves to feel physical pain rather than deep emotional pain, hurt, confusion or self-hate they’d feel otherwise. Self-harming is a destructive addiction that helps teenagers feel some control when they’re overwhelmed with strong emotions, intense pressure, relationship problems or difficult situations they can’t change.

So if you discoverer your child is self-harming firstly, be there for them emotionally with empathy, kindness and love.

Although you may not understand it, and may be horrified about the scars it will leave, your child has a huge emotional pain that is much more painful to them than the cuts. Please don’t get angry, or shout at your child.

At this moment your teenager needs to feel the security of your love, with your words, your hugs and your time, so they can safely tell you things without you judging or criticising them or getting overwhelmed too.

Although the cutting may give your teenager temporary relief, in the end, it makes them feel even worse, and doesn’t help them solve their problems. So secondly, find someone your teenager can talk to, to explore what’s going on for them. Friends their own age may not have the emotional resilience or knowledge about how to get your teenager to stop and may be quite frightened by it.

So go to the GP and get a referral to a counsellor, psychologist, or psychotherapist who deals with teenagers. Or find a recommended specialist or an adult friend or relative who’s confident helping teenagers with self-harm.

Your teenager may be suppressing feelings of guilt, embarrassment, hopelessness, self-loathing, the need to self-punish and even suicidal thoughts so your teenager needs to trust this person, know they can handle the difficult emotions, and guide them towards more functional ways of coping.

Finally, help them find other ways of dealing with emotional pain.

  • Being there for them and just hugging and loving them can really help.
  • Focus on their diet, exercise and sleep, and look at how you can improve each of them.

And look at other ways to help your child relax and deal with pressure:

  • Maybe yoga,
  • Meditation,
  • Relaxation exercises,
  • Deep breathing,
  • Mindfulness,
  • Music,
  • Learning acceptance of themselves or others.
  • Or problem-solving- where they write the problem down, brainstorm ten to fifteen possible solutions, and then choose the best one.
  • Or decision making –where they write down the advantages and disadvantages of different decisions and then choose the best one.

Also help them explore what they can do if they feel overwhelmed in the future, instead of cutting.
Such as:

  • talking,
  • going out for a walk,
  • vigorous dancing,
  • Or even ringing the Samaritans.

So if your teenager is self-harming, 3 things you can do are:

  1. Be there for them emotionally with empathy, kindness and love.
  2. Find someone your teenager can talk to.
  3. And help them find other ways of dealing with the emotional pain.

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If you need more than three tips on this – or you’d like to discover the secrets you need to have happy well-behaved, children – please contact me by clicking here. You can arrange a free 20-minute (no obligation) chat to find out if working with me personally (by phone, Skype or face-to-face) would help you and your family. Contact Elizabeth

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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