We as parent try our best to provide our children with the safety love and knowledge that helps keep them safe when out in the world, we try to shield them as much as we can from outside harm and danger.
So what happens when the harm is an internal source?
With mental health in children and young people on the rise, this weeks blog is set to look at what is self harm and how can we as parents support our young people through it.
There will also be links provided for support in getting help and information should you feel like you need further advice.
In the instance of self harm we would always recommend speaking with you GP or a support worker that can give you further advice if you are worried about your young person.
So what is self harm?
Most of us immediately jump to the thoughts of the most obvious harm which is normal but lets look at a list of Harm and see how many you thought as harmful behaviour?
- Cutting or burning
- Punching or hitting themselves
- Tablets or other toxic chemicals (Ie glue)
- Misusing drugs or alcohol
- Vaping and smoking
- Starving themselves
- Binge eating
- Depriving themselves of sleep
- Sleeping too much
- Excessive exercise
- Deliberately hanging out with people they have said they do not like
- Getting into fights
- Risky sexual behaviour
- Spending too much time on addictive things like social media and gambling etc
Now when we look at that list we immediately pick out behaviours that we recognise in our young people or even perhaps ourselves. Its important for us to recognise we all cause ourselves harm.
It all comes down to balance. Usually when we are overwhelmed, stressed or busy we often don’t treat ourselves as well as we should. We can find ourselves not getting enough sleep or eating a healthy balanced diet or even spending too much time on social media and not being productive.
So what happens with our teens and tweens?
We all remember how tough it is to be a teenager, to try to fit in with our peers, keep up with workloads at school, after school activities. Todays teens have the added pressure of social media so are never more than a click away from the peer and societal pressure to perform or be a particular way.
Now let us add in the good ole HORMONES!
Gee Whiz they make you feel so out of whack that you do not know if you are coming or going some days.
So when our teens are feeling all of this……Sometimes self harm can be their way of trying to cope with the overwhelming feelings of hurt, anger, sadness or stress.
Other reasons young people might self harm…..
- Parents divorcing
- Suffering abuse
- Exam stress
- Criticism from school or family to do well
- Feelings of guilt, failure or being unloved
With the right support we can help our young people find a safer and healthier way of communicating their feelings.
I would like to share my story.
I am 13 years old and I decided I would share my story to let you see from my side what its like to feel like I do.
I’ve always felt different, since I was 9 I told mum, I feel like there is something missing. I cant explain why or what but I cant escape it either. I make friends easily but those friends are not always kind to me and I think because I looked like I had lots of friends everyone thought I was okay.
It has been really tough talking to someone about the way I feel and it took a long time before I could.
The first time I harmed myself was when a friend told me I had ugly hair. I cut my hair off.
I am so used to being called names now that I don’t even hear them anymore, I just feel numb. I walk around school feeling like I am an alien and not part of this world. Its so hard to fit in with people.
I try to hide, mostly stay invisible, so I hang around with unkind people and I don’t rock the boat. When I get home I cant wait for quiet but we have a busy house and sometimes I feel invisible here too.
My mum tries to check in with me every day, and some days I like that, other days I am mean to her cause I want her to leave me alone. I know she tries her best to help me, but I don’t know what I need.
I do like when we go late night drives with my music on and we just chat normal stuff, that makes me happy but we cant do that all the time as mum is busy.
When I cut myself, I don’t mean it to hurt myself, I just need to feel sometimes, cause sometimes I am so numb, I don’t know if I am real or I even exist.
Even now when I have help, and I write in my diary about my feelings and thoughts, I still cut, just to feel like I am still real and I still exist.
My mum and me made a special box and that has helped me not cut myself as much, but I still have to sometimes.
Maybe one day I wont need to but I am glad I finally told someone so I could get help.
What can we do to support our young people….
Knowing what to say or what is the right thing to do is always challenging for any parent. We as parents often blame ourselves and analyse our relationship to see if we could have been any different or there was perhaps something we missed!
But no amount of blame or shame is helpful in supporting the needs of our young people and helping them and ourselves to find ways forward.
So what can we do?
- Well we as parents need to be their safe space, that’s all about communication and meeting them where they are, not where we think they should be.
- Support them to talk to someone, even if its not you. Teachers, extended family or a professional therapist/counsellor or coach. It may even be more than one person, the more people they feel safe to reach out to the better.
- Do not punish/reprimand. Its our instinct to tell them to stop doing it, but then we increase the chance of them doing it in secrecy. So open honest conversations that normalise talking about big feelings.
- Encourage distraction techniques like exercising, walking in nature, breathing exercises or other hobbies that they enjoy. Music or being around friends who they enjoy being with are also helpful.
- Encourage the the keep a journal, writing down the feelings can help them recognise patterns that lead them to harmful behaviour. It can also be artwork, poetry, video blogging, picture taking but a way of capturing the feelings and exploring is a good way of getting to the causes.
- Create a self soothing box. Fill it with your favourite thigs such as photographs, chocolates/snacks. Perhaps add in some some fidgets or stress balls, mindful colouring books or even a lego piece. The box is to be filled with things that make you smile and happy in the hope it decreases the need to harm.
- Speak to GP. When it feels like it is too much or is a cause for concern then its always advisable to chat to the GP, who can offer more specialised help and support.
So where else can you get support?
Young Minds: www.youngminds.org.uk
Calm harm: Available on Google play or App store
Me Too: Available on Google play or App store
Samaritans: Text 116123
Childline: www.childline.org.uk 08001111
The Mix: 08088084994
Children 1st: Parentline 08000 28 22 33 (Scotland)