Spotting Self-Harm In Children

Self-harm is something that is quite common in this day of age, more young adults by the year are turning to physical self-harm in ways to express their psychological hurt. 2019 showed 44 out of 100 admissions for self-harm with the ages between 10 and 24. As a parent or carer, seeing these signs can sometimes be hard as well as not knowing how to help your children through this time.  Looking out for the mental signs is important, but also the physical. The most common form of self-harm is usually cutting on the arm or inside of the legs. However, it can take many other forms as well, including, burning, biting, hitting oneself, banging of head, pulling out hair or taking overdoses.  In some circumstances, people can argue that risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs and casual unprotected sex is a form of self-harm.

The most common reasoning for a person self-harming is to be able to cope with negative feelings and experiences, to feel more in control, or to even punish themselves. It can be a way of relieving overwhelming feelings that can build up over time.

Reasonings why a person self-harms:

  • To manage emotional upset.
  • A feeling of physical pain to distract from emotional pain.
  • Express emotions such as anger, hurt or frustration.
  • Control over feelings or issues.
  • To punish themselves or others around them.
  • Relief of tension or stress

The experiences or feelings that could connect to self-harm include anxiety, depression, poor body image/ low self-esteem, gender identities, sexuality, school problems, bullying, abuse, social media, family or friendship and bereavement. As a parent, you may suspect that your child is self-harming and it’s important to keep alert if you sense these changes.

Keep an eye open for these signs:

  • Unexplained cuts, burns, bite marks etc.
  • Keeping themselves covered, avoiding swimming, changing clothes around others.
  • Bloody Tissues
  • Being withdrawn or isolated from loved ones.
  • Lack of interest and outbursts of anger or emotion.
  • Blaming themselves/ Feeling like a failure

If you find out your child is self-harming, try not to panic or overreact in front of them. It’s a very difficult subject not only for you but your child as well. Everyone is different, so everyone has different ways of helping or coping with this reality. Though some acts of self-harm are done for attention, it’s important to remember to not label it as ‘attention seeking’ and that there is nothing wrong with wanting attention and its that individual’s way of showing you they are in deep distress, as it can be hard to be direct.

Here are some tips and advice on how to help a person who self-harms:

  • Avoid asking too many questions.
  • Keep an eye open but avoid ‘policing’ them as it can increase the risk of self-harming.
  • Keep open communication between you, a child may feel ashamed to talk about it so keep it comfortable but apparent.
  • If confident, ask to remove whatever they are using to harm themselves with.
  • Be open and understanding to the situation, do not act threatening or angry.
  • Do not forget about the harm if they say it was only done once.
  • Regularly check up on how they are feeling and who is in their life.
  • Seek professional help.


The subject of self-harming is not a comfortable one for anyone, but it’s one we need to take seriously as the act is increasing each year in young adults. As parents or carers, it’s your responsibility to recognise the signs of self-harm. Take action, get help, be kind. No one wants to suffer alone.

Contact the Devon Clinic for private professional help with self-harm.