If you’re seeing patterns of self-harm in your child, it’s important to reflect on whether there are any underlying issues.
For example, one couple recently discovered that their 13-year-old daughter was cutting her wrists. They were at first shocked that she would participate in such behavior. The couple came from a middle-upper class socioeconomic status and did not expect their child would want to harm herself. Besides, she was mostly quiet, shy, and always well behaved in school. Furthermore, she was academically at the top of her class and, for the most part, excelled in most areas of her life. This was out of the ordinary for her.
Also, the couple could not distinguish whether the self-harm their daughter began to exhibit a month ago was an adolescent trend or something more severe. They did recognize that there were some recent events that might have had an effect on her psychological and emotional well-being. Yet, was the self-cutting a behavior that her friends were doing too? Was it “cool” to self-harm these days? Or were her actions the result of a psychological impairment that needed more attention?
The recent death of their daughter’s grandfather, her mother’s father, might have had something to do with it. Shortly after his death, she began to isolate herself in her room more often and refused to go to dance practice more frequently. When her mother attempted to talk to her about it, she responded with short answers and changed the subject. Another significant event in their daughter’s life was a recent cut from the school play. She had made the auditions, practiced for 2 weeks with the theater group, but when the director needed to cut out a few extra parts, she was a part of it. The cut was detrimental to her self-esteem.
The couple suspected that those two events might be contributing to their daughter’s self-harm. And it’s true that adolescent self-harm is often a way to cope with intense emotions. Other reasons for adolescent self-harm might include:
- to calm and soothe
- feel more alive if they feel disconnected or numb
- to release pent up anger
The type of help that a teen needs to curtail adolescent self-harm depends on the reason behind their behavior. However, in the case of this young adolescent, therapeutic exercises can include painting or drawing on a large sheet of paper with red ink or paint, expressing feelings in a journal, composing a poem or song that expresses emotions, writing down negative feelings and then ripping or burning that piece of paper, or listening to music that expresses what you’re feeling.
Forms of traditional treatment might be individual or group therapy, art therapy, and other expressive modalities such as journaling and poetry therapy. If the self-injury is severe, treatment might necessitate hospitalization and medication to address the anxiety, depression, and psychosis, if there is any.
It can be incredibly helpful to have an adolescent participate in individual therapy and cultivate a strong therapeutic relationship with a mental health professional. At times, however, a couple might take their child to a therapist, and their daughter or son might at first agree but then later find it hard to keep their appointments. If this is the case, parents might want to find therapeutic exercises to help with providing healthier coping mechanisms. Other successful interventions to remember are reducing any unnecessary stress and improving communication skills.
The couple did in fact have their daughter see a therapist. Alongside this, they participated in family therapy to improve the relationships among them and open the channels of communication. About one month after family therapy began, her cutting stopped and she returned to previous levels of socializing along with returning to her regular dance schedule.
During this incredibly difficult time in life, it is paramount for an adolescent to have a professional adult on his or her side.