How To Talk To Your Child About Self-Harm
(Note: The following is a guest collaborative post not written by yours truly, about a pretty heavy topic. I know that you usually come here for my irreverent musings, so consider this like when comedy TV shows back in the day would tackle a serious subject ie “Tonight, on a very special episode of Blossom.” Enjoy, and I’ll catch y’all on the next one).
Talking about self-harm can be difficult, and for most parents, it’s a conversation they hope they’ll never have to have with their children. But, you don’t have to be worried that someone you love may be self-harming in order to talk about it. Educating our kids on self-harm is a great way to introduce them to the topic of mental health and equip them for future challenges, as well as to support them to flourish into kind and compassionate individuals.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the best ways to talk to your child about self-harm.
First, pick the right moment
It’s important to remember that people who self-harm can feel a lot of shame and guilt about their harming. Although there are some signs to look out for, you never really know if a young person is having trouble with self-harm or not – so, you’ll want to avoid bringing up the topic in a way that could be potentially triggering or scary for your child.
Always approach the conversation sensitively, and try to start it at a time that it comes up naturally, if possible. For example, you could begin by simply asking your child how they are feeling, or take the opportunity to talk when the theme of self-harm is addressed on a television show.
When you have this conversation, it’s crucial that you remember to adopt a compassionate and non-judgemental attitude. You want your child to feel secure in knowing that they can talk to you about anything, and that you will be there with love and support each and every time, no matter how they are feeling.
Keep it age appropriate
It goes without saying that you’ll want to speak differently about self-harm to a young child than you would to a teenager. When speaking to a child, you might want to keep the conversation as feelings-focused as possible – for example, you could talk about how someone might feel when they’re upset, and what they might do to make themselves feel better. This is a great way of introducing your younger child to the idea of unhealthy coping mechanisms versus healthy coping mechanisms, without having to talk about the specifics of self-harm that may not be age appropriate or of immediate concern.
When speaking to a teen or an older child, you might want to let them have a bit more control of the conversation. After all, bringing up the sensitive topic of self-harm can easily feel intrusive if it’s not perceived as a two-way conversation.
If your teen wants to speak candidly about the subject, welcome the opportunity to do so, and show them that you can also match their honesty and openness. Alternatively, if it feels like they’re not quite ready to talk, allow them the space and time that they need in order to come to you organically.
Talk about coping strategies
Talking about coping strategies for distressing feelings can be potentially life-changing for someone who self-harms, and can be a great preventative measure for others. Talk to your child about how they can take deep breaths if they’re feeling overwhelmed, or how they can write their feelings down on a piece of paper and then tear it up if they’re feeling angry. If appropriate, you can talk with your child about how people who self-harm might benefit from holding ice cubes, or wearing elastic bands on their wrists that they can flick.
Remember, you can’t encourage your child to self-harm by just having this conversation, as self-harm happens when a person is experiencing extremely distressing feelings. In fact, having such a conversation can do a world of good, as your child can share their knowledge with a peer who really needs to hear it.
To sum up
Self-harm affects all kinds of people, both young and old, and from a variety of different backgrounds. By opening up the conversation, we can cultivate understanding and empathy in our children as well as ourselves.