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St Julie’s Catholic High School is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people and expects all staff, governors, volunteers and visitors to share this commitment

Self-Harm a quick guide for parents and carers

May 5, 2016

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is behaviour that is done deliberately to harm oneself. At least 10% of adolescents report having self-harmed. Self-harm can include, for example:

  • Self-cutting
  • Hitting or bruising
  • Intentionally taking too much or too little medication
  • Burning
  • Taking an overdose
  • Hanging
  • Suffocation

Although some people who self-harm may be suicidal, self-harm is often used as a way of managing difficult emotions without being a suicide attempt. However, self harming can result in accidental death.

Is your child self-harming?

As a parent, you might suspect your child is self-harming. If you are worried, watch out for these signs:

  • Unexplained cuts, burns or bruises
  • Keeping themselves covered; avoiding swimming or changing clothes around others
  • Being withdrawn or isolated from friends and family
  • Low mood, lack of interest in life or depression
  • Blaming themselves for problems or expressing feelings of failure, uselessness, hopelessness or anger

“I think for a parent . . . it is important to know that you are not alone” parent interview

Reasons for self-harm

Self-harm can serve several different functions:

  • To manage extreme emotional upset
  • To reduce tension
  • To provide the feeling of physical pain to distract from emotional pain
  • To express emotions such as hurt, anger and frustration
  • A form of escape
  • An effort to regain control over feelings or problems
  • An effort to punish themselves or others
  • To elicit care from others
  • To identify with a peer group
  • Self-harm can also be a suicide attempt

Finding out about self-harm

Some children may tell their parents about their self-harm; other parents find out from teacher, friends or medical staff.

Discovering that your child is self-harming can be very upsetting and stressful. Parents may experience a range of emotions including anger, sadness, helplessness, shame or disgust. It is normal to feel strong emotions and important to try and understand and accept them so that you don’t risk misdirecting them at your child. Try to think of their behaviour as an expression of deep emotions they can’t handle any other way.

“We worked out that if she sent me a blank text, I knew that she needed some company or a cuddle or some distraction.” Parent Interview

Supporting your child

  • Have a conversation, but don’t bring up self-harm straight away
  • You could organise it around another activity, like a walk or drive
  • Ask if anything is worrying them and how they are feeling
  • Let them know you are not judging them or putting them down, and that you love them and that will not change
  • Show that you are prepared to listen to what your child has to say
  • If your child does not want to talk, see if they will write you a note, email or text message about how they feel
  • Ask if they would rather speak to someone else (e.g. a GP, counsellor or helpline)
  • If your child is able to be open about their self-harm, try to help them work out feelings and situations that may trigger it
  • Try to think together of ways to handle strong feelings that don’t involve self-harm (e.g. keeping a diary or blog, caring for a pet, exercising or playing sport, snapping an elastic band against the wrist, clenching an ice cube in the hand until it melts or drawing on the skin with a red pen)
  • Help them think through their problems and see possible solutions
  • Encourage them to think about the long view and how things may change in the future

Here at St Julie’s we have a dedicated safeguarding team who can listen, support and provide advice to parents who are dealing with self-harm. Further help can be sought through your general practitioner (GP), who may refer your child to a community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) where an assessment would be completed and a plan made for support and treatment.

More information on self-harm can be found at