What can I do if my child is self-harming?

If you think your child is self-harming or hurting themselves, it’s important to get support for your child and your family. 

Young people may use self-harm as a way to cope with difficult emotions that they don’t know how to express. As a parent or carer, there are things you can do to help them work through their feelings and find other ways to cope.

If your child is in danger of immediate harm or their life may be at risk, call 999 or visit A&E.

Read this in Welsh/ Darllenwch hwn yn Gymraeg: Beth allaf ei wneud os bydd fy mhlentyn yn hunan-niweidio? 

Get help for you and your child

Speak to a person you trust or someone independent about what’s happening. Encourage your child to talk to someone too. You can get support in the following ways: 

How you can support your child

Make sure your child knows you’re there for them, and they can talk to you about anything. Take some time to understand what they’re going through and why they might want to self-harm. Try to be non-judgemental about the self-harm. It may take some time for things to change, so it’s important to support your child during their journey even when things are difficult.

You can also:

  • If your child feels OK speaking about their feelings with you, ask a professional to help you create a ‘safety plan’. This can be a way for them to let you know how they want you to help when they feel an urge to self-harm. It’s also a good chance to talk about safety measures and getting medical help.
  • Put sharp or harmful objects away. But be aware that your child may look for other items if they feel a strong urge to hurt themselves.
  • If your child is using self-harm as a coping strategy, this means they’re unlikely to stop immediately. Talk to them about how to stay safe from infection. This includes washing the wound and any items used and having clean bandages at home.

    Coping strategies for self-harm

    Help your child find ways to cope when they think about self-harming:

    • Encourage your child to understand more about their own urges and ways to cope. Rethink Mental Illness and The Mix have some useful information on this.
    • Suggest your child tries some apps that help to manage emotions and reduce the urge to self-harm. These include Blue Ice, Calm Harm and Distract.
    • Make a ‘soothe box’.  The box should contain items that can help when your child feels the need to self-harm. This could be photos, letters from loved ones, or favourite snacks. You could also include a list of songs or videos to watch, fidget toys, or a breathing technique.

    You can find more guidance on how to help a child who is self-harming, including stories from parents, at Young Minds.

    Mind also has more information on self-harm.

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    This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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