Children self-harming
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BECAUSE self-harm is becoming prevalent among young people, parents and adults must look out for tell-tale signs and learn about prevention.

When children are young (five -10 years old), it is easier for parents to keep an eye on them and know what is going on in their lives. But as their hormones develop and they enter puberty, children see the world and themselves in a new light.

Teenagers can be secretive and prefer to share information and problems with their peers, who are going through similar experiences, rather than their parents.
Youngsters fail to realise that parents have passed through the exact stages of growth – and that most parents would do anything to help their teenagers sail blissfully through adolescence.

Successful adolescence can be due to a supportive network of parents and relatives, or maybe the teenager has a cheerful and upbeat personality.

Some youngsters are better than others at managing life’s challenges. But the ups and downs of life can test even the strongest characters. And if children become overwhelmed by thoughts or emotions, this could lead to self-harm.

To help prevent self-harm and other mental or emotional issues from developing and getting out of control, encourage children to speak about their emotions, thoughts, and desires from an early age.

Stay in touch with them as they grow, and always pay heed to their mental health. Don’t just ask them how they are doing; make it your business to find out for yourself. Go through their school books, phones, and bags, and be a forceful and dependable presence in their lives.

Self-harm is when a person deliberately causes physical harm or pain to themselves. Examples include hitting, burning, biting, scratching, and cutting themselves with a razor blade or knife.

Those who self-harm usually does so on a body part that is not in public view and is easily covered.

The average person may think people self-harm for attention. Others believe it could be a cry for help. What do you think? Professionals say self-harm is usually the action of someone overcome or troubled by events, thoughts or memories — or those feeling depression.

It could also be the result of extremely low self-esteem or self-loathing. Problems at school or with drugs or alcohol; trauma, abuse, or bereavement can similarly induce self-harming tendencies. Inflicting pain or injury on themselves is a coping strategy to ease mental anguish. It is a good indicator of how low a young person is feeling.

To the average onlooker, self-harm is senseless. Who in their right mind would harm themselves? But it may seem like the only way out to the person in the throes of mental affliction, or for someone who feels numb and empty.

Most people mistakenly think self-harm is a prelude to suicide, but it is the opposite. While those with suicidal thoughts want to end their lives, people who self-harm use this adverse action to cope with their lives.

They are seeking ‘relief’ from their pain. However, it is still addictive behaviour which only gives temporary relief, and the aftermath brings confusion, shame and fear.
Parents should look for signs such as unexplained scars or marks on their teenager’s arms or legs. A noticeable change in their teen’s behaviour or attitude – are they unhappy?

Does the teen constantly wear long-sleeved clothes or trousers, even when it is hot? Has the teenager become withdrawn and secretive, moody or seems depressed? Has the teenager lost weight or changed their eating habits (eats less)?

Young people can harbour deep emotional thoughts they cannot speak about with anyone – not even their best friend. Neither can they put their feelings and views into perspective and move on with their lives.

Herein lies the basis for mental distress and the potential for self-inflicted injury. Parents and loved ones must be observant and recognise when something isn’t right with their teen.

It is hard to get teenagers to open up and talk about their problems when they don’t want to, and beating, shouting or threatening them, escalates the situation and makes youngsters feel worse. Parents and relatives can be the last people in which teenagers confide. Even counsellors have cases where they make little progress in their initial sessions.

If parents suspect their child has self-harmed or is suffering from a mental issue, they should remain calm and in control of their emotions. It can be distressing to know you cannot ‘fix’ your child’s pain.

Still, maybe there is a family friend, teacher or relative to whom the child prefers to confide. Parents should not feel slighted, but should encourage the child to open up to someone — a colleague, a teacher, a health visitor, or anyone the child trusts, who is willing to listen.

Once children have confidence in the adult, they will be comfortable in their presence and eventually speak freely. They know what they say is private and will not be frowned upon, laughed at or judged.

When children begin to acknowledge and talk openly about their problems, it is the first step to helping them understand and learn ways to deal with emotions. If the child self-harmed, or parents deem it necessary, they must seek professional advice and give continual parental support.

Young people will need to find a way through the stage of self-affliction and replace self-harming with meaningful thoughts and aspirations. It may take persistence and conviction, but it is possible.

A counsellor, therapist (or even self-motivation and dedication) can help young victims seek healthy, alternative ways to cope with their emotions other than self-harm.
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at

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