Often parents are at a loss when it comes to adolescent self-harm and self-injury. At first glance, the behavior of harming oneself seems strange – why would anyone want to hurt themselves? At other times, parents might wonder whether self-harm is an attempt at suicide. Also, discovering that their teen is participating in some form of adolescent self-harm can be difficult to accept. However, with the right support, a teen can learn to stop harming themselves.
What Parents Can Do About Adolescent Self-Harm
A parent needs to remember to reach out for that professional support in the first place. Here are steps to take when you find out that your teen is cutting or harming themselves in another way.
- Make sure to seek support of a mental health provider. Recovery is possible. However, nothing will change if providers are not brought in to support your teen.
- Be patient and willing to work with the pace of therapy. A typical suggestion offered by a therapist or psychologist is to let the teen set the pace of therapy. Teens often use cutting and other forms of self harm as a coping tool for strong emotions. One parent admitted that giving her daughter the space to vent her feelings was frightening. This mother was afraid that when her daughter returned to reflecting on challenging emotions that the self-harm would return. However, when teens have an outlet to articulate feelings (such as in therapy) this prevents the need to find another unhealthy way to cope with them, such as cutting. However, talking about emotions and expressing them is a healthy form of emotional release.
- Learn to trust your daughter and the therapist. Sometimes, if a teen continues to engage in self-harm even while in therapy, it can be hard to trust the support from friends, family, and professionals. This can be difficult, especially when it looks like things are getting worse. However, there is a process to healing, and a teen needs to learn (at her own pace) that she doesn’t need to rely on self-harm to get her emotional needs met.
Supporting Your Teen Through Recovery
The following are other tips to remember when supporting your teen through the self-harm recovery process:
- Hold on to the belief that recovery is possible
- Remember that there will be ups and downs.
- Know that there will be occasional setbacks.
- Don’t lose hope when it looks like your back to the drawing board.
- Make sure your teen knows that she can direct the pace of recovery.
- Help your teen stay focused and motivated, yet be sensitive to her emotional mood.
- Encourage the rest of the family to be sensitive.
- If you’re unsure about how to help your teen in recovery, ask her.
- Let your teen explore with healthy techniques that might reduce harming.
- Make time for your teen and invite her to share about her process.
- Discuss any setbacks calmly and safely explore the reasons behind them.
- Discuss various ways of coping with emotions versus self-harm.
- Provide extra support when it appears that circumstances might get in the way of recovery, such as spending time with certain friends, or an unexpected emotional challenge that might further self-harm.
Above is a short list of action steps as well as tips to remember during the process of healing. Adolescent self-harm can be treated and eventually your teen can learn healthy ways to cope with intense emotions.