Information for Parents: What You Need to Know About Self-injury.
How do I know if my child is self-injuring?
Many adolescents who self-injure do so in secrecy and this secrecy is often the clearest red flag that something is wrong.Although it is normal for adolescents to pull away from parents during times of high involvement with friends or stress, it is not normal for adolescents to be withdrawn, physically and emotionally, for long periods of time. It is also important to note that not all people who self-injure become distant and withdrawn—youth who put on a happy face, even when they do not feel happy,may also be at risk for self-injury or other negative coping behaviors. Some other signs include:
- Cut or burn marks on arms, legs, abdomen
- Discovery of hidden razors, knives, other sharp objects and rubber bands (which may be used to increase blood flow or numb the area)
- Spending long periods of time alone, particularly in the bathroom or bedroom
- Wearing clothing inappropriate for the weather, such as long sleeves or pants in hot weather
What might I feel when I learn that my child is self-injuring, and how do I deal with these feelings?
If you learn your child is self-injuring, you are likely to experience a range of emotions, from shock or anger, to sadness or guilt. All of these are valid feelings.
• Shock and denial
Because self-injury is a secretive behavior, it may be shocking to learn that your child is intentionally hurting him or herself; however, to deny the behavior is to deny your child’s emotional distress.
• Anger and frustration
You may feel angry or frustrated that your child has possibly lied to you about his/her injuries or because you see the behavior as pointless or because it is out of your control. As one parent said, “There is a frustration in terms of that little voice in the back of your mind that is saying ‘just stop it!’ It’s very hard, I think knowing more about the condition and about the underlying factors makes it easier to push that little voice away.” ....…but remember that you can never control another person’s behavior, even your child’s, and trying to do this does not make things better.
• Empathy, sympathy and sadness
Though empathy helps you to understand your child’s situation, sympathy and sadness can sometimes be condescending because they imply that your child needs to be pitied. These feelings may also hinder your ability to understand the behavior.
You may feel as if you did not offer enough love and attention to your child.However, though your actions can influence your child’s behavior, you do not cause their self-injury.
Reprinted with the permission of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior.
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