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What can you do?

Listening and caring is the most important thing you can do to help - showing that you want to know and understand, can make a lot of difference.

Seeing the person behind the self-harm is important to show that you care about the whole person and not just the self-harm. Acknowledge that self-harm is a symptom of other problems, it is not the problem to focus on. Accepting the self-harm helps them cope and can help to show that you understand that at the moment, self-harm works for the person when nothing else can, the goal is to find alternatives to self-harm.

Accepting mixed feelings is very helpful - one of the conflicts may be that they hate their self-harm, even though they might need it. It helps if you accept all of these changing and conflicting emotions.

Help the child/adolescent find further support – they may need help in addition to what you can give and you can help support and encourage them in finding this. Remember though that if the young person has began to talk to you, you are well-placed to continue to work with them.

Show concern for their injuries - by showing the same compassion and respect you would show for any other injury, you are showing them that their body is worth caring about. It is important to recognise how hard it is for them to talk - gentle, patient encouragement may help. Some children/adolescents find it helpful to develop a list of alternatives to their self-harm.

Some successful alternatives are:

  • hitting a punchbag to vent anger
  • going out for a walk
  • writing down thoughts and feelings and possibly tearing this up
  • keeping a diary
  • talking to friends
  • self-help websites
  • draw on skin with a pen where they would cut
  • holding an ice cube against skin instead of cutting