It’s a subject that’s seen to be taboo but it is critical to the lives of our children that we do talk about it. Lynn Frank of Passage tackles the serious issue of self-harm.
It is hard to understand why your child, or anyone else’s children, would deliberately harm themselves. There is a lot of confusion, misinformation and silence about this taboo issue, even though child helplines and other support organisations are reporting a steep increase in cases. Self–harm, also called self–injury, self-mutilation or simply cutting, is defined as any intentional injury to one’s body. It can also include severe dieting or bingeing. It is most common in adolescence and young adulthood (12-14 years old); however, it can occur at any age.
Why do children harm themselves?
During adolescence and young adulthood, it is normal for our children to want to fit in or conform to their peer group – kids of their age are doing all over the world. Often, this can lead to comparisons and sometimes confusion around their newly emerging identity. Whilst they are going through big physical, mental and emotional changes, our expectations as a society change too. We often expect them to take on more responsibility, to think about their future, to act more like adults. All this can lead to feelings of not being able to cope.
Self–harming usually occurs when people face seemingly overwhelming or distressing feelings. The physical pain, and sometimes ritual, around self-harming provides temporary relief from feelings such as anxiety, depression, stress or self–loathing. It can also be an act of rebellion as part of the individualising process associated with adolescence.
Sufferers may feel that self-harming helps them to express feelings or release tension, distract them from overwhelming emotions or regain control. They may even feel that self-harming makes them feel more alive, instead of feeling emotionally numb. Some self-harmers even identify themselves with others and this gives them a sense of belonging.
In the past, this behaviour was seen as either ‘a cry for help’ or a suicide attempt, which may have been true. More recently, a wider understanding of why people self–harm defines it as a coping mechanism.
Technology and its contribution to self-harm
As parents, it is important not to underestimate how tough it can be for children and young people living in a world that never sleeps. New technology means that most of us can be ‘connected’ 24/7. To most teenagers or young adults with portable connected devices, this is a reality.
More and more, we see the line between on-line and off-line life being diminished. In some circles, it is suggested that for young people growing up today there is no difference.
This means that our children can be bombarded by information, images and messages at any time and we as parents have little control over what they are being exposed to. Parental controls aside, our children can easily access chat, text or pictures that can be confusing or upsetting. And if a child is being targeted or bullied, it can be difficult to detect.
Signs of self-harm and how we can help our children
There are some warning signs that a child or young person may be self–harming, including unexplained wounds, cuts, bruises or burns. Be on the lookout forsharp objects such as razors, knives, needles or shards of glass in a person’s belongings or the frequent reporting of ‘accidents’ that may be blamed for causing injury. Often, cutting or other injuries are hidden by clothes, and your child might insist on covering up with long sleeves even in hot weather. Changes in mood and needing to spend long periods in isolation, especially in the bathroom may also be a sign.
The best thing we can do as parents is to be open about the possibility that our child or someone else’s child may be self-harming. We need to talk to our children and encourage them to talk to their friends about this issue.
It is increasingly important that we challenge the taboo around the discussion of self–harming, depression and suicide amongst children and young people.
The KJT Campaign: Discover the English Online Help Service
The KJT Online Help service provides support for parents and young people who need information, advice or support around this or any subject of concern. The service is confidential and anonymous and anyone can use it for free by contacting www.kjt.lu Please encourage children and young people to try out the service, this is an important part of them learning about where to get help if they need it in the future . The service is running a publicity campaign in schools and other places where young people meet. This month’s theme for their postcard campaign is self-harm:
The KJT Online Help Service can support children, youths and their parents in English, German, French or Luxembourgish. The English Online Help service was launched in 2015 and is presently running a publicity campaign for young people in Luxembourg.
The campaign mascot ‘Bod’ is touring schools and places where young people meet to distribute postcards to advertise this service. A new postcard will be published each month around a theme that affects children and young people.
The general theme this month is ‘how people cope’. The campaign will run for 12 months, and there is a competition with prizes to find a letter hidden in each card that makes up a 12-letter word most important to this service.
Encourage your child to look out for this publicity and even try out the service. No question or problem is too big or too small and the fully trained volunteers can provide support, information and appropriate signposting of places to get on–going support in Luxembourg. To use this service or for more information contact www.kjt.lu
Lynn Frank BSc. (Hons. Psych) MSc. (Health Promotion) is a Licensed Positive Parenting (Care for the Family UK) facilitator. She is a psychologist with over 20 years experience of working with groups and individuals, children and parents facing the challenges of modern-day living. For further information and registration, click here.
EVENT: Passage 5th Anniversary ‘Bring & Buy’ Birthday Bash
Save the Date!
Saturday 1st April, 12.00pm – 5.00pm
Sunflower Montessori Crèche, 72 Route de Remich, L-5330 Moutfort, Luxembourg
Our kind friends at Sunflower Montessori Crèches have generously allowed us to celebrate our own ‘rites of Passage’ at their site in Moutfort. The ‘Bring & Buy’ Birthday Bash will be a fundraising event for Passage to mark our 5th Anniversary and our pending a.s.b.l. status.
- There will be good quality second-hand goods on sale;
- Cakes and refreshments will be available to buy too;
- Lynn from Passage and YogaBalance will be inviting all willing and limber parents and children to join in some Family Yoga Fun at 3pm (outdoors weather permitting);
- Ophelia from the Little English Bookworm will also have a varied selection of English-language books to buy and running some reading workshops throughout the afternoon;
- There may even be some birthday cake and crèment to toast the occasion as well!
So please save the date in your diaries and we look forward to seeing friends and family there on the 1st for some celebratory fun!