Cutting and self-harm seems to be popping up more and more in my practice. Cutting is such a difficult thing for parents to wrap their head around. “Why would you hurt yourself to feel better? How is this going to impact your future? ”
I have found that parents often feel completely caught off guard when they discover their kid has been cutting themselves. Most of the time they feel like they have failed their kid because they “missed the signs”. It’s heartbreaking to talk to these parents because sadness and shame are palpable in the room! The interesting thing is when I meet with parents individually there is so much sadness and helplessness. When I meet with the child and parents together, parents often are angry! They are frustrated that their kid won’t stop or won’t talk to them.
I wish I could push pause before parents start to react like this. I know that it is only coming from a place of fear, but their kid really doesn’t see it that way. The kid feels like it’s another way they are disappointing their parents or they can’t do anything right.
Parents! It’s okay to be vulnerable with your kids! It teaches them that they can be vulnerable too!
Here are tips when you find out that your kid has been cutting or self-harming themselves.
- React with love, not fear. It’s scary to see your kid is doing this to themselves. Yelling at your kid, or demanding answers will not help. Take a deep breath and proceed lightly. Gently point out that you’ve seen the cuts and that you’re worried. Your kid might feel embarrassed or defensive. That’s okay! Let them know that you aren’t mad, you are just concerned.
- This is not the time to go down your down shame-spiral. Parent often start this downpour of, “What did I do wrong?” or “Why did you feel like you couldn’t come talk to me?”. Those questions are totally normal, but this is not the right time to talk to your kid. This is about them, not you. Stay focused on what’s going on in their life currently.
- If you feel like your kid wants to kill themselves, take them to the Emergency Room. Check out this post on what to do.
- Find a counselor. Self-harm doesn’t just go away. Your kid needs to learn different coping skills and it takes time. Typically when cutting behaviors go away, the child is left to deal with the issues that led them to self-harm. It’s a painful and lonely place to be, so they need as much support and new coping skills as possible.
- You can try to lock up whatever they used for cutting, but when there’s a will- there’s a way. It’s natural to demand them to give up their razors or whatever they were using. But until the reasons they started cutting are addressed, kids will keep cutting.
- Do not make your child feel guilty. After cutting, there is normally a huge tidal waves of shame, regret, fear, self-loathing that happens. You kid is beating themselves up enough. They don’t need a lecture on how this will impact their future. They need love, support and safe place to come talk to you.
- Don’t force them to try to heal the scars. This goes back to parenting out of fear- fear of how this will impact bullies at school, or future job interviews. Part of cutting can be holding on to the scars. While this may not make sense to you, it does to your kid. Respect that and know they will let go of the scares when they are ready.
- Be patient. When your kid cuts, they are getting a rush of endorphins to their brain. So for a moment, this helps them feel better. This is also what makes it harder to quit. So, be patient with your kid.
As always, spend more time with your kid. Little stuff can make a big difference. When kids feel safe and supported, good things happen!
Until next time! Xoxo- Kristen