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.

Therapy:

  • 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.

Medication:

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.

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