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Children and Self-Harm

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 24 Jan 2021 | comments*Discuss
Self Harm Self-injury Self-harming

Self harming may be one of the hardest behaviours for people to understand, but many children participate in various means of self harm, including cutting, burning, hair pulling and self-poisoning. Help is available for children who engage in these behaviours, but since kids are normally very secretive about these actions, it can take some time before parents discover the need for intervention.

Dangerous Behaviours
Many kids and teens engage in dangerous or risk-taking activities, but not all of these are categorised as self-harming. Drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, reckless driving and unsafe sex are certainly risky behaviours for adolescents, but are not considered self harm.

Actual incidents of self harm include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning or scalding
  • Scratching, with fingernails or other objects
  • Banging
  • Bone breaking
  • Hair pulling
  • Ingesting objects or poisonous substances
Trying to Cope
Kids and teens who admit to self-harm often say that they do so in order to help alleviate feelings of anxiety or other emotional distress. The majority insist that they are not trying to commit suicide, but instead are seeking relief, albeit temporary, from their uncomfortable feelings. Kids who have been subjected to bullying as well as those whose families are going through difficult times are at increased risk of becoming self-harmers.

How Parents Can Help
Kids and teens who engage in self harm are often afraid of how others would react if they learned of the behaviours, so most are quite secretive about their actions. If children do come to their parents with admissions of self harm, it is important for the parents to make every effort to remain calm and offer the child reassurance that they will help them to find healthier ways to cope with their feelings. It is important for parents to offer help, whilst allowing the kids to have input as to the type of help that they require, since kids who self-injure often feel powerless and may be trying to exert some control in their lives. Parents should assure their kids that they are loved and offer a non-judgemental ear whenever possible.

Seeking Professional Help
Physical injuries from self harm need to be dealt with. If the wounds are superficial, parents may be able to offer simple first aid, but for more serious injuries, a nurse or GP may be needed. Although rarer, very serious situations may require emergency treatment. Once the immediacy of the injuries have been met, it is important for kids who self harm to deal with the underlying emotional problems that led them to their dangerous behaviours. A GP, counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatric nurse may be able to offer appropriate care, helping kids to better understand their condition and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

Additional Sources of Information
While much is still unknown about self harm, there are a growing number of books available that may help parents and children to better understand the problem, as well as possible solutions. In the UK, there are a number of resources available for parents who wish to help their child stop self harming behaviours, including the following organisations:
  • Parentline Plus 0808 800 2222
  • Samaritans 08457 90 90 90
  • NSPCC 0808 800 5000
  • ChildLine 0800 1111 (for kids)
Additionally, the following websites may offer valuable information:
  • www.lifesigns.org.uk
  • www.nshn.co.uk
  • www.samaritans.org.uk
  • www.childline.org.uk

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My 8 year old brother has been scratching himself for a while when i tell him its time to shower or when i tell him to do something he dont like (clean up, eat veggies, etc) or when he is in a stressful environment. He also mutters to himself and doesnt talk to me or parents when he is upset. He also doesnt respond when i ask him simple questions when stressed which makes it harder for me to understand him. I get so incredibly anxious when he does this cause i also self harm and it triggers me a lot that I accidentally yell at him to stop cause i get so so scared. I really want to help him, so he doesnt end like me. I dont know if i should tell the parents cause i know its uncomfortable topic, and if they were to talk to him I think my brother would just be upset and wont listen.
whale - 24-Jan-21 @ 4:55 AM
My 9 year old daughter scratches her face or arms when I tell her off. Iv told her not to do it but she gets so angry. Her face goes bright red. What should I do?
Madge - 3-Sep-20 @ 9:34 PM
My 12-year old daughter has been suffering with negative thoughts, low self-esteem and depression for a few months now. She's always been a pleaser but now, when my husband shouts at her and I tell him that's not OK to do, she says it's fine and he can speak to her how he wants. Her younger sister can be very frustrated/aggressive much of the time and I think this is having an impact too. She has now started to scratch her arms with her nails saying it makes her feel better. I'm really stuck because she won't speak to a professional saying she's not crazy, mad or insane. What can I do as a parent to help please? She's going to boarding school in 2 months time (just Mon-Thu) and I'm petrified it will get worse.
Mitchie - 16-Jul-20 @ 12:51 AM
Hi my niece (MN) is 4, she lives with us due to an incident that occurred. My sister took her in and she has her own child he is (1). MN has been bruising herself and when she puts mark's on herself, she easily manipulates others into thinking we have touched her. We started to realise time out was just not working, she would drop herself to the ground and just scream. She would pull out clumps of her hair, rip off her nails by biting them, poke the inside of her eyes, scratch her palms and arms ETC. Bruises, big lumps and cuts were appearing on my nephew (J). When we would ask where they came from, we would ask MN and she would lie three times until she would admit it was her and then laugh about the harm she has done. She thought it was satisfying hurting not only herself but J as well. She does not feel guilty or have any emotion towards anyone she hurts, or when she misbehaving. we thought it was just behavior issues because of the age but it has gotten worse over the year. She has become very insentive and cruel disregard for others. We don't know what to do, some of our family members have bipolar and her mum was diginosed with amental illness when she was young too. Her cousin (J) older brother is getting tested for ADHD. So we have to just wait until she's at the appropriate age of testing. But it's hard not knowing how to deal with her because one day she may hurt herself when no ones around and it something bad might happen.
Worried aunt - 1-Jul-20 @ 3:38 AM
I have been involved in my ex’s kids life for many years even after we broke up I still have a very close bond with the child and ex, they come to stay with me. Over all the years from day one till now my ex and the child’s other parent have never really got on they have times where they can be amicable but it never lasts, the child is protected most of the time from my ex’s side but very much involved in the other parents side of it they tell the child everything! So past couple years the child has been hurting themselve, become a very closed book, the child does not have many good role models from other parents side be that friends or family where as from my ex’s side and my side the child has good people, good structure. I and my ex have called many times to get the child help but the other parent wants sole control over everything. Is there any apps or books that can be given to the child to help them open up to usthey are almost 10. I fear there is more to it than other parent let’s on and social services have been involved and don’t seem worried at all
Help me help them - 12-May-20 @ 9:27 AM
My 8 year old twisted the swing so it would bruise her arm like a love bite but she said it felt good and make her feel better she was angry because she couldn't have her tablet and shes living with nan on care order help
Flickflick89 - 24-Apr-20 @ 9:21 PM
My son is 8 and he as started biting himself for the last couple of weeks he as come to me and said kids at school are calling him thick my sonis very sensitive and can put himself down a lot and as always put himself down even when he was little he always would saynegativeThings about himself ie been fat ori’m not brainy enough or he as no friends I always tell him that he’s not and that he is loved and that he’sperfectBut am starting to think i need more help I don’t no what to do to get him tounderstandThat he is perfect
Ali - 16-Oct-18 @ 8:17 PM
My daughter is 6 years old. She cut another kids hair in school today, said someone "dared" her. I got a call from the counselor saying after that she tried to harm herself (pulling out hair and twisting her wrist) I went up there face to face to get a big understanding on what's going on. And that's all they could tell me. That the counselor didn't get every detail. And told me her teacher will call me to explain. I'm still waiting on a call. It's been two hours since school dismissed. I'm not sure what to do. I explained to her that you can't do that and she's super smart, I know she knew better. She's definitely a follower and I'm not sure what to do. The school is making it seem like it's not a big deal. But to me. It is. What do I do. :(
Kay - 7-May-18 @ 10:48 PM
My son has been scratching himself at school today. So much so that he has broke the skin. When asked by a teacher he said he was itchy. I probed further and he said, "I hurt other people so I have to hurt myself too". He is a handful and can be naughty at times however he is always punished using the naughty step, sweet bans etc. He is also praised a lot when he shows good behaviour. I don't want my son hurting himself further, it has really saddened me and I want to take whatever steps recommended to make sure this doesn't become a habit. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.
Concerned mam - 20-Jun-17 @ 4:43 PM
Woo - Your Question:
Hi my child is 8 and making himself bright red by strangerlung himself, he also tries biting himself and pulling down hard on eye sockets he suffers from anger, frustration could he seriously hurt himself by strangerlung within own hands?

Our Response:
It might be worth taking him along to your GP to get him checked out - to make sure there are no underlying health issues causing the anger. A GP make also be able to refer him for counselling or therapy.
KidsBehaviour - 11-May-17 @ 12:46 PM
Hi my child is 8 and making himself brightred by strangerlung himself,he also tries biting himself and pulling down hard on eye sockets he suffers from anger,frustration could he seriouslyhurt himself by strangerlung within own hands?
Woo - 9-May-17 @ 10:00 PM
Anonymous- Your Question:
I feel depressed and want to elf harm for absolute no reason and I have a perfect life no one bully's me but recently a few close friends have been ignoring me what should I do? Btw I'm not an adult

Our Response:
It would be better for you to seek the help of someone you trust, like a teacher, parent or relative and tell them how you're feeling, the reasons for it and why you're asking for help. An adult should be able to help you to find support for these feelings. You could also try Childline if you don't have any else you can talk to.
KidsBehaviour - 29-Feb-16 @ 2:38 PM
I feel depressed and want to elf harm for absolute no reason and I have a perfect life no one bully's me but recently a few close friends have been ignoring me what should I do? Btw I'm not an adult
Anonymous - 26-Feb-16 @ 10:03 PM
My daughter who is now 3 will scratch her legs and arms..she does this when she is not upset?! I have read many things about children being upset but nothing on children who just scratch themselves for no reason..? We will be walking and she will say" stop mama I have to scratch my leg" she is not scratching an itch its strange what do you think?
ellajaceally - 9-Aug-15 @ 8:04 PM
@worriedmom. Can you get your daugher's GP to refer her for some kind of therapy or counselling? This will probably be more effective than trying to help her on your own.
KidsBehaviour - 23-Apr-15 @ 11:09 AM
Hi I love my daughter and what to help but dnt no how. she's 12 I've always tried my best to giv her the best but nothing I do ever seems good enough she's always been troubled never seems happy I just dnt know what to do for the best she I open with me talks to me but I just cnt get her to stop self harming everytime I c a cut on her its like a cut threw my heart I'm destrort I cnt get to the bottom of y she's so happy and cant help her I'm her mom and I feel like I'm failing her I just want her to b happy
worriedmom - 20-Apr-15 @ 8:02 PM
@Depressed Teen. We do hope this article has helped you. Please do seek out some help from some of the support groups mentioned in the article.
KidsBehaviour - 18-Mar-15 @ 2:19 PM
I am not a parent like most of you guys,lm really 13 as of 2015, l just want to say that a child or teen may self harm due to feeling empty,sad,lonely, along those lines, my reason for Self Harm was to turn my attention to PHYSICAL PAIN and away from REALITY were life kinda sucks & not really worth it, there are the very FEW people that do so to look "cool" wich its not, another cause can be harsh dicipline (why I started) no-one really deserves to be like me now a suicidal, skin on bone, depressed teen
Depressed Teen - 16-Mar-15 @ 5:01 PM
@selfharmer. Thanks for the thoughts. I see this behaviour around me and can kind of understand it. Your post confirmed a couple of thoughts that I have. I find it difficult to take about this but you've helped me plan a course of action. Many thanks.
Concerned - 13-Oct-14 @ 10:45 PM
Oh sorry I forgot to mention.. once you know the feelings that are going on inside your child. then slowly get to the bottom of why they feel those feelings. they will be superficial at first so dont push but slowly get to the root of them maybe with professional help. Dont ask why they cut as they wont know and they could shut down or shut you out. I only new what I was feeling after the residential care councelling and inhindsight. and I only learnt why I cut after I got to the root of the problem and finally had the words to what I felt going on inside me. Its surprising how manykids do not know alot of feeling words. so take care and time. How often when someone asks us how we are that we say "good" and that may not be the acurate word but then expect our kids to be able to articulate their feelings with us. food for thought I hope.
self harmer - 13-Oct-14 @ 10:40 PM
Hello Im now and adult who used to self harm alot. I just want to tell you what was going on for me so you might be able to see it in your child. Before I start Many different circumstances and experiences can be the cause but the resulting feelings in the child are quite common. My circumstance was sexual abuse but even if my circumstance was a missing father neither one is worse than the other as the resulting feelings could very well be the same and to the same degree of severity. I cut myself because I felt unloved, unworthy, ugly, negleted, unimportant, smelly, alone, rejected and I could go on but must mention the self loathing as being at the forefront each time I cut. I hated myself, my skin, my hair, my face etc etc. I craved attention by making myself cry when I was really young so people would take notice but as I got a little older that didnt work as I was labelled as an attention seeker. Cutting became quite adictive as it calmed my thoughts and the sight of the blood brought on a slight euphoria and it was very powerful to see myself bleed. I went into residential care for addiction and there I addressed my self harming at 26yrs. I wish I did it earlier but I must not have been ready as I had tried councelling. On the outside I went to work everyday, completed an apprenticeship with top marks and managed to socialise to an extent but on the inside I was falling apart. So finally at 26 I hit rock bottom with a drug habbit which is ironically what saved my life as it was something tangible that people could see was wrong with me. But it wasnt my problem it was a sympton just like the self harming. Be aware of those feeling I mentioned and I bet that the self harmers in your lives have the same feelings if not very similar.
self harmer - 13-Oct-14 @ 10:24 PM
@Worried Dad. This is worrying for any parent and it's always difficult to know what to do for the best. If she's anxious about something, then treating this as a huge issue may make her feel worse. Try to make contact with her class teacher in the first instance (it's probably best to do this without your daughter's knowledge) and see if she is aware / or could look out for any school based problems. Maintain your loving and stable family atmosphere & be sure to let your daughter know that she can talk to you about anything at all. Next, call one of the numbers listed in the article and/or visit their websites, there may also be local support groups in your area where you can talk to other parents who've been in similar situations. Your GP is also another avenue for information and help. Finally, it may be that it's simply become a habit that she can't stop and it may be simply helping her deal with normal changes that a 9 year old experiences - hormonal changes and a ramp up in academic work in year 5 etc. Try and find something alternative for her to do when she feels the urge to nibble her fingers - this could be writing a diary, playing with a squeegy ball, creating something with loom bands etc (depending on where she is at the time) - again if it's in school, her class teacher may be able to help with a diversion. Let us know how you get on.
KidsBehaviour - 10-Oct-14 @ 11:00 AM
Hi. My 9 year old daughter is nibbling the skin off of her fingers. Just discovered she has virtually removed a fingerprint plus few lesser marks on others. My wife and I are desperately unhappy that our little girl is so anxious about something but we are not sure what as answers are pretty vague. She had a history of this a few years ago but was more about her fingernails and the odd bit of skin next to then. Now it's returned (new school year so presumably few changes for her). She also now has started to put plasters on herself so she is keeping this as hidden as a 9 year old can. We are really shocked as we honestly thought this kind of behaviour was for older teenagers plus we thought our relationship with our kids was pretty good. Our homelife is stable and we just cannot explain or understand why this is happening or who to talk to. She is such a loving child that it just seems so wrong. Can anyone aim me in the right direction. I'm worried sick.
Worried Dad - 10-Oct-14 @ 1:28 AM
hi my son is 14 and is at a specialist school due to aspergers. he has done a little self harming in the past and sees a councillor at school, but we have just found out he is doing it again. this time he has been using a rubber on his arms to burn the skin n really making a mess of them. he has spoken of not bein in this life anymore and says he is a rubbish son and that he feels he dnt deserve friends, just dnt know what to do the school are supportive but still in bits over it.
kitty - 31-Mar-14 @ 4:41 PM
my daughter has been self harming for a while now but i only found out about three weeks ago,but she told her older sister,I confronted her,she wouldnt show me the marks for a while,but when she did i got upset.She told me she stopped doing it,but last week she asked me to get her to see a doctor,then changed her mind.I really dont know what to do and i feel upset for my older daughter now because she is feeling that she does,nt want to go to school and wants to cry,im worried about her.they know they are loved.What do i do?
half pint - 2-Jul-13 @ 10:43 PM
I know how You feel ive just found Out My son WHO is 14 is self harming although he is denying thisi I've told him how much I love him I think he's being bullied I just want to help him
divvy - 12-Apr-13 @ 8:53 AM
I found out last week that my daughter is scratching herself as a form of self harm. She's not quite a teenager yet and has been through a huge amount of change in the last 2 years. I'm so lost as to how I can help her. I've always made it clear she can talk to me about anything as she has always been a very unhappy child. Her father and I have never understood why this is. She's had a good life, wanted for nothing and been surrounded by love. Yet she's always been sad and found it hard to make friends and be open with people. I'm at the end of my tether and utterly alone in this as she's sworn me to secrecy now. I've an appointment with my gp to discuss what I can do. I'm so scared it'll get worse, I'm desperate to make it stop
Terrified mother - 11-Jul-12 @ 9:09 AM
Sarah, Have you ever considered that she might be a little bit super intelligent aspergers? Just slightly autistic. One of the signs can be hair pulling. Your daughter sounds clever but independent and maybe not very sociable? Most psychologists believe Einstein had Aspergers. Many other scientists have Aspergers too. How could they otherwise spend all that time by themselves researching and thinking? I don't know anything about your daughter but I have a sister with Aspergers and three PhD's and a lot of interesting ongoing projects and interests, but she likes to work alone and lives in a house in the forest. It took a long time for her to get happy with herself. Her main problem was that she didn't feel fully accepted by others for who she was so she had to work on herself a lot to accept that she was different. If the family is open and can encourage a child for whatever she is the prospects for being a happy human being is much bigger than if people see differences as a problem. Maybe Aspergers maybe not. The psychologists in UK are not very good so I would turn to an expert if I were you. Or maybe your daughter is "normal" and have some kind of fear or secret and need a lot of your time to find out what bothers her.
Minime - 22-May-12 @ 10:16 PM
My daughter has been pulling her hair out for a few months now, she is 4 years old and is also having trouble concentrating at school. Her teacher told me she is very capable but likes to work to her own agenda and seems as if she is in a world of her own. These are my main 2 concerns although there are other worries such as sleeping issues, tantrums, struggling to make decisions. I would be grateful for any advice before speaking to a gp or health visitor, as I am not sure if I should be concerned.
sarah - 14-May-12 @ 11:48 AM
Im joining the club as have only just found out my14 year old daughter has been cutting herself with the razors. She says she doesn't know why she started or what causes her to do it but did say that we shout at her alot. I feel like a bad mum who has failed her and just want to help her but dont know where to start
brandy14 - 11-May-11 @ 8:34 PM
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