Self-injury is characterized by deliberately injuring oneself to alleviate some kind of emotional distress. The most common form of self-injury is cutting or scratching the skin, but people also self-injure by burning themselves, picking at skin and wounds, or hitting themselves. Self-injury is more common in girls than boys, and onset is often around puberty.
Signs Your Child May Be Self-Harming:
- Talking about self-injury
- Suspicious-looking scars
- Wounds that don’t heal or get worse
- Cuts on the same place
- Increased isolation
- Collecting sharp tools such as shards of glass, safety pins, nail scissors, etc.
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts in warm weather
- Avoiding social activities
- Wearing a lot of band aids
- Refusing to go into the locker room or change clothes in school
How to Help
If you discover that a child has been hurting herself it’s important to have her evaluated by an experienced mental health professional to find out why she is self-injuring and what emotional difficulties she’s experiencing.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): In this kind
of therapy a psychologist works with your child to help her learn how to
tolerate uncomfortable feelings like anger, anxiety and rejection
without resorting to cutting.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): In CBT, a
psychologist teaches your child to recognize and challenge negative,
distressing thoughts, and train herself to think outside of them.
- Family therapy: If there are distressing things going on at home—conflict, job loss, a death—family therapy may be helpful.
Often, if there is another disorder involved, a doctor will prescribe medication to treat that condition. The combination of medication and psychotherapy is very successful at treating kids who self-harm.