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Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

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Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

Parent/Carer Community Champion

Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

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This week’s topic comes with a content warning – this is a sensitive topic, and can cause distress to some people. Please be sure to look after yourself while you read and engage in this topic.


If you wish to speak to someone about anything that comes up during this discussion, you can call the Parents Line on 1300 1300 52. 

Or Lifeline on 13 11 14


 As part of our guidelines we ask that you don’t post anything graphic, or any specific details about specific means and methods of self-harm.


Self-harm is an issue that comes up frequently for parents of teenagers, and can cause confusion and complicated emotions for everyone.

In this week’s discussion we want to have a chat about why teens self-harm, and how we can best support them if they are.


To read more about what self-harm is, and why young people engage in self-harming behavior read some information here on our website 


Self-harm comes in various forms, and is often a coping strategy. 


Some questions to consider and respond to in the comments: 

Do you feel comfortable talking about self-harm? Why/ why not? 


If your young person has used self-harming behavior, how did you respond, and in reflection would you have changed anything about how you responded? 

Parent/Carer Community Champion

Re: Topical Tuesday - Self-Harm

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@taokat @Sister @sunflowermom @Schooner


 @J7mbo @lovelymum



Would love to hear from you all! 

Please tag any other members you think may be interested in this topic too. 

Questions, queries, concerns, thoughts feelings - all welcome. 

This is a tricky subject, so lets support each other as we explore it. Heart


Active scribe

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

I am looking for answers here too - my 16yo who's been self harming for about 6 months (I've been aware of it for about three) and had been able to find other coping mechanisms for a bit but I've found evidence of a revisit thismorning. I am kicking myself that I didn't stay up later last night - she'd been unhappy last couple of days and finding school workload rough and really struggling to initiate sitting down and actually facing her homework. She blew up at me when I made a fairly small remark about getting to bed (this is around 11pm) and then she answered her phone to a friend and motioned to me that she'd not be long. She slept in this morning and looked shattered when she got out of bed (way late to have time for breakfast before leaving for school). I am not allowed to touch her and haven't for ages - and she desperately looked like she needed a hug today. Sigh. I figured that she'd be heading for a crash sometime this week going on behaviour but I thought it was still coming and turns out it was last night. 

A few weeks ago I asked her if I could see her arms (she said to me ages ago that I could ask any question I wanted but she would choose whether to answer) and she said no - that I wasn't ready. Not sure I ever will be to be honest . . . . . Not really answering any questions here. Have been in touch with her school and Headspace this morning and go not joy anywhere - no calls answered. Will see how she is after school today.

Active scribe

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

And an extra - I've now got myself booked in for a psych appointment next week. I need way more strategies to deal with this than I can come up with myself. Feels good to have a bit of plan in that regard.

Prolific scribe

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

Hi @gina-Ro


My son tried this a couple of times. He told me about it soon after each time. It was in response to a very difficult time, he felt abandoned  by his medical team (I did too, frankly). Although he had periods of suicidal ideation at that time I did not feel that the self harm was about suicide, it felt different. He seemed to be a bit relieved after trying it, and was open to talking about it. I'm convinced it was to relieve stress.


So, yes, I'm able to talk about. Yes, it freaked me out (but I was determined not to show it). I responded in a matter of fact way: OK, show me what you did, how did you do that, first aid, etc. I didn't make a big fuss, and just left it to report at his next scheduled session. I did do some "risk reduction" in the kitchen though!


I didn't want him to start doing this in secret. Happily this period passed, and it hasn't been an issue since.


I think I'd respond in the same way if it happened again.


Parent/Carer Community Champion

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

Hi @Rowanna  - thank you for your response -  your honesty around such a difficult situation is really appreciated. 

I'm so glad to hear that you were able to book yourself in for a psych appointment - and that you've shared that with us - this is something that can easily slip off the radar for parents. The focus is often to just get your teen into support - but it is SO important to be getting your own support and psycho-education so that you can be better equiped for your daughter, as well as emotionally supported yourself. 


It sounds like you're being incredibly supportive, respectful and keeping communication open. 

If you're open to, it would be great to hear from you again after your appointment next week to hear how it went, and any guidance or advice that was helpful. 
Apart from that - how are you looking after yourself, or what other supports do you have while you support your daughter? 

Parent/Carer Community Champion

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

@Schooner - thank you for sharing about your experience with your son and the amazing supportive way you responded!
You sound like you have a lot of insight into what was going on there for him -  with the self-harm being a way to relieve and cope with stress. 

That's a pretty common reason that young people self-harm, and as you've said - it can be confused with suicidality when that's not necessarily what it's about.


So interesting to hear your approach of being factual and not making a fuss -  it was really effective and de-escalated the situation - while also giving the message that you weren't judgmental and he could tell you about it if it happened again. 


Thanks again for sharing and reminding other parents that they are not alone with this issue! Heart




Parent/Carer Community Champion

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

To help my daughter not self harm I try to distract her.  I will offer to take her for a cup of coffee, I will ask her if she wants to lay down with me and watch a TV program. Will she color with me or show me her favorite utube celebrity. Help me make some brownies.  any distraction.......  Its a good sign if she is coming to me before she self harms. If its too late- I always try to help her by first aid and a hug and I don't ask a bunch of questions.

Super star contributor

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

Such a great topic @gina-Ro, and one we've experienced as well. My daughter was in Year 8 and having a really tough time in life in general that year.  


When my daughter first came to me, I'll admit I found it confronting, but it helped me understand my mum's reaction to me. She ridiculed me for being a silly attention seeker, but I believe she couldn't cope with it, or didn't know how to. So I knew I had to put my stuff aside, and we just took care of it and had a talk about what was going on for her if she was open to doing that, which she wasn't always. I always tried not to show a reaction or make a huge fuss about the self harming but focus on what she was thinking and feeling. Calm, love and patience went a long way during this time.


As with @Schooner, the kitchen was heavily overhauled, and pencil case emptied of particular items. She was inventive though, so it felt impossible to keep one step ahead of her. 


Having self harmed myself in my youth, I understood it was different to being suicidal, and knew it gave relief from overwhelming negative emotions, but that was it. I spoke to my daughter's counsellor about it who also said it can become addictive because of the physiological change that occurs which gives that feeling of release and relief. She gave me a couple safer options to suggest to my daughter, and they were:


  • ice cubes directly on the skin, or
  • a rubber band around the wrist to flick against the skin. 


My daughter's counsellor also talked to her about the short term relief but also the possible consequences of self-harming, some of them life long. It wasn't done in a frightening way but to get her to understand what's happening and think about her choices and the outcomes they may have. 


The rubber band did the trick for my girl. We also went back to recognising and naming emotions again so she could express herself verbally using more than just an expletive four letter word and it's various forms!!


@Rowanna I'm so sorry to hear about your daughter. It can be so tough to know how to best move forward with our teens sometimes! 

I just wanted to share with you - my daughter's never been an affectionate kid per se, but her teens have seen her pull away from hugs from me too. If I do hug her I can often hear her silently groaning as she pats me on the back a couple of times. Her personal space is rather large around her. I'm an affectionate person so this is really difficult for me, but I've found texting to be a way to get my love through when she's shut off to that face to face interaction. They're not detailed or elaborate, sometimes just a photo of one of our cats doing something funny and xxx. Sometimes just a 'love you xxx'. When you can see they're needing a hug but won't accept it, I've found it's a great way to start breaking throught that wall they've put up. I'm so glad you're seeing someone for support and strategies. I'll be keen to hear what you learn as well if you don't mind sharing. 


And sorry, off topic, but does your daughter see a counsellor herself? I know this is going to sound crappy, but being able to recognise your daughter's downward spiral could be really useful for you. With my daughter it allowed me to 'prepare' and put things in place so she didn't escalate. I bare knuckled it for so long - so not worth it. (maybe we could start a new thread for this @Rowanna?). 

Active scribe

Re: Topical Tuesday - How to help your teen if they self-harm

She is seeing a counsellor but has been away on exchange overseas for four weeks and though I asked that she have an appointment waiting for her when she returned I don't believe that's happened. Need to get her back in pattern of behaviour again of going regularly. She was more calm and got homework done last night so that at least should relax her a little. Recognising her spiralling behaviour is definitely a work in progress for me.

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