Talk about self-destructive behaviours

Many young people will be ashamed and confused by their self-harming and may not be willing to talk to you about it. It’s important that you learn how to take the first step and start the conversation to help your child get through these tough times.

How to manage your teenager's self-destructive behaviour

It’s important to do this in a non-judgmental way. This can be hard as you may not understand or approve of what you’re seeing – and you’re probably very worried. But your child needs to understand that you’re aware of what’s going on and that you are there to support them. Self-harm is a serious issue and a problem behaviour however, it is common among young people who struggle with their mental health. It is not just attention seeking. Rather, it could be your child’s way of telling you that something is very wrong.

If you feel angry or guilty, it’s likely your child will be aware of that and feel unsupported. Remember that you can help them by showing support and understanding. Sit with them and together look at options that can help them. Keep in mind, you can’t stop or change their behaviour just by telling them to – it’s often an impulse that’s out of their control.

How you can help

When starting the conversation about self-harm, keep these ideas in mind:

  • explain some of the things you have read about that have helped others

  • suggest they might like to read some of these things when they are ready

  • don’t overwhelm your child and make them feel they need to be ‘fixed’

  • don’t panic, let them take the lead on how they want to work on it

  • emphasise that different things will work for different people so it’s worth experimenting with different coping mechanisms to remind them and yourself that the process of owning feelings and deciding what to do is their key first step

  • when your child is ready, recommend and support them to access people that can help, like a psychologist or counsellor.

If your child isn’t willing to talk to you, encourage them to seek help and support anonymously online at ReachOut. Here they can learn that there are other young people who are experiencing the same thing.

Your child needs to know that they can recover from needing to self-harm by learning about coping skills, how other young people have recovered and what they did to manage it.

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