Parenting expert Anne Cawood offers 6 points of advice to parents of children who self-harm.
You've discovered that your child is addicted to cutting and you don't know what the next step is. Start with these tips:
1) Listen and be aware
It is very important to learn to really listen to your children. So many parents are so caught up in their own stressful lives and problems, that they fail to tune in to their kids.
Learn to decode behaviour (to observe behaviour and then develop the ability to look at the feelings) that could lie under the surface. For example be aware that when your child comes home from school, does not communicate and then spends the afternoon and evening in their bedroom, he could be incubating anxieties, resentment, issues around peer pressure etc and not know how to share this with caring adults.2) Make time
Becoming an effective listener also means making time to tune into your pre-teen. Take an interest in what they are doing. Avoid too many direct questions, which tend to close any possibility of open, positive communication. And definitely hold back on judgmental comments and undue advice.3) Try to make sure kids have an outlet for their emotion
Those who have shared with me the reasons for resorting to self-mutilation, have all said that it was a way to try to get in touch with feelings. In other words, they have begun to feel "dead" inside - as if they have no feelings - usually because no-one seemed genuinely interested in how they were feeling. By cutting themselves - seeing the blood and feeling the pain, it made them feel "alive" again. Almost a desperate attempt to yell out that they need attention and that they desperately need to be taken seriously.4) Communicate your love and pride to your children
It seems to be correlated with feelings of low self-worth. One girl said to me that she just felt so worthless - nothing she did seemed to make her parents proud of her, so she was punishing herself for being so useless and such a disappointment. This points towards the importance for parents to find positives in each child, never to compare and to be aware of unrealistic expectations. It seems that, if a child feels good about herself,and truly believes that her parents accept her - with all her strengths and weaknesses, she would have no reason to mutilate herself.
5) Don't assume. Try to understand
It is often seen by adults as an extreme form of attention-seeking. The children that I have counseled regarding issues of self-mutilation, have shared that gaining attention was not the foremost reason. It seemed more a case of wanting to punish themselves for not being lovable. And the main preventative measure here, I believe, is that all-important skill of genuine listening via empathy. This says to the child that someone cares deeply and sincerely for them. The result...."If I am loved and cared about, why would I want to harm myself?" Of course, there can be elements of attention-seeking, especially in those obviously over-dramatic attempts which can be a result of peer influence. I have been aware of teens who "dabble" in half-hearted attempts - almost because all their friends are doing it. This does not make it any less concerning. It means that parents should be very tuned in - and to ask themselves "Why would my child want to do this just to impress her friends... or to get my attention?" It is a definite red-light alert that all is not well and that parental attention is needed. 6. Get personalised expert advice
Finally, it is always best to seek professional help as soon as possible. If the child is resistant to go for help, then possibly it might be best for you to go - and the therapist will know how to handle your child.Did you know about this phenomenon before? How would you handle the situation if it was close to home?