Jo Fitzsimmons talks to us about how hard it can be to spot the signs that our children might be engaging in self-harming behaviours, and how important it is to be aware.

Eventually we find out everything: parents are like detectives! Our instinct, our ability to pick up a lie at a 100 meters, our skill at catching ‘looks’ and our unquestionable anxiety about our children; all make us the next candidates for the next Inspector Morse…..

Picking up our child’s self- harm isn’t as easy, is it? Questions we need to ask ourselves about how our children are doing to help us gather enough clues might be some of the following:

Is my child withdrawn (not just quiet, but removed)?

Is my child in their room on their own for long periods of time? (do I know what they are doing, who they talking to?)

Is my child under pressure at school, at home, with friends?

Does my child struggle to show me when they are sad or angry?

Is it getting near to exam time?

Does my child wear long sleeves all year round?

Do they struggle to wake up in the morning (more than any other teenager!)?

If I look in the bin in my child’s room, what do I see – anything that concerns me?

It’s like putting together a puzzle trying to figure out our teenage children. They want independence, yet they want us to do everything for them; they want to be allowed to express their opinions freely, yet they want us to decide what they are having for dinner; they want to be ‘adult’, yet they are still children in so many ways.

Young people often tell us what they need most in their life is a listening, caring, non- judgemental adult. They, mostly, love their parents. What they don’t like is feeling like a stranger to us and us to them. If you don’t know the answer to any of the above questions, go easy on yourself, figure out a good time to go for pizza and just let them chat….even if it’s stuff that bores you! There is plenty of time to get to the BIG questions, begin by having regular times of contact….so then, if and when you and they are ready, you can begin to discuss the BIG stuff. Listen. No questions. Even if you suspect your child is hurting themselves in some way. Listen.

It may take a few weeks of building the jigsaw, gathering your ‘evidence’ and you feeling strong enough to pluck up the courage to talk about your worries; that’s ok. Self-harm is a coping strategy, not a suicide attempt, by waiting a few weeks in order to build your relationship with them will pay off in the weeks and months ahead of you both as you work together to manage how they are feeling.

We are developing our online support for parents – drop us a line, as we know how hard it is to cope with.

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