Self-harm in children happens when they experience an overwhelming core pain that they are not able to handle. As a parent, it is important to understand it is not the child’s fault they are reacting this way and they are not doing it on purpose – they simply do not know how to handle the overwhelming feelings they are experiencing.

To learn more about self-harm in children, watch our films below or read our factsheet.

Watch our Films

Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. It can be the acute reaction people turn to when they feel they have no other option.

Self-harm affects more people than you might think. It is estimated that between 10%-20% of all people self-harm at some point during their lifetime. It is hard to gather exact figures due to the stigma surrounding self-harm, and because people try to hide their wounds, scars and bruises.

The average age of the first incident of self-harm is around 12/13, though the rate of self-harm among younger children (aged 9-12) in the UK has increased in the last ten years.

Read and download our fact sheets, watch more videos or sign up for our mailing list and free interactive guide.

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Emily’s journey to recovery from Self-Harm

As this film explains, pressure to succeed, feelings of guilt and deep and strong emotions that need to be resolved, can lead someone to self-harm but that only acts as a momentary release.

Talking to someone to share worries can be a great help.

Read and download our fact sheets, watch more videos or sign up for our mailing list and free interactive guide.

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Further information:

Children may self-harm in response to overwhelming emotions. They will either bottle up their core pain until they cannot hold it in any longer and resort to self-harm, or they may act upon impulse due to the core pain and harm themselves immediately.

To understand a child who is engaging in self-harm, it is crucial to be aware that it is not their fault. With the right support, children can learn how to handle the intense emotions they are experiencing without the need to self-harm. This can be done with your help or, if you are concerned about the immediate wellbeing of your child, with the help of a professional mental health specialist.

A child or young person who is engaging in self-harm is very vulnerable and may feel intense feelings of shame and guilt, so approach them with great compassion and care and create a safe space for them to open up. If you notice physical signs of self-harm such as cuts and burns, or if your child has become reclusive or impulsive, initiate a private conversation with them.

Respect your child’s boundaries if they do not want to talk but make sure they are aware that you are there to hear them out and help. If they do share how they are feeling with you, let them know you appreciate their honesty and reassure them that they are not in this alone and there are ways to channel these intense emotions in a healthier way.

As a parent, you can help your child by encouraging healthy hobbies and activities such as writing in a journal about how they feel, allowing for emotional relief in times of extreme distress or spending more time with close friends and playing sports.