If you have just found out your child is self-harming, we are so sorry and are here with you every step of the way. Jo Fitzsimmons has put together a list of helpful tips for you to have a look over:
Keep calm – Yep, we know, it’s against every instinct you have….but pretend, even if you don’t feel like it;
Try not to ask ‘why?’, ‘is it my fault because…’
Ensure you have dealt with any immediate safety/first aid issues eg: if cutting, are wounds clean and sterile? If medication has been taken, do you know how much of what?
Don’t tell your child to stop; trust us on this. If you take away the items they are currently using as a coping strategy, they may find something else less ‘safe’
Keep it on a ‘need to know’ basis within your family and friends: do siblings need to know? Do aunties, grandparents, friends need to know right now? As a parent you will need support through this so maybe choose one person you trust to talk to.
Inform school and explain to your child why you need to – if teachers notice scars or hear about self-harming from one of your child’s friends, school may not deal with it in the way you would prefer. We know it’s hard, take the initiative and pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting to talk face to face, your child may or may not want to be part of it.
Be prepared – it may get worse before it gets better. We often find young people sometimes feel like they lose a bit of control over the self-harming when family find out about it.
Contact your GP as soon as possible. Ask for a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), there will be a waiting list or this. Options for while an appointment comes through: young people can join our online support group for young people wanting help with their self-harm; maybe they would prefer to talk to a local counsellor (you will find qualified counsellors listed on www.bacp.org.uk); perhaps school have a counsellor they could talk to?
We know it’s very, very hard and emotional for you and your child: as much as possible try to keep the house calm, keep communication open and rows to a minimum (we know they are teenagers and drive us nuts sometimes!), think about leaving smiley face post it notes for them or an encouraging quote or song lyrics – anything that shows you care and you are in this with them.
Keep in touch with us at SelfharmUK – we host training events and online chats as we are passionate about supporting you to support your child.
Mostly – look after yourself. It’s a long and bumpy road, take it slowly and remember to find a moment in the storm for yourself.
You can find a parents guide to self-harm here
You can find a book about self-harm recovery here
You can find Jo's full story of supporting her child through self-harm here