As parents we have many difficult issues to face and decisions to make about our children’s welfare. Like many other worries, one we hope we’ll never have to deal with is our child self harming.
However, self harm amongst young people is on the increase. And what’s even more worrying is the age at which children are beginning to self harm.
It’s usually something we associate with teen years, but it was recently reported that children as young as three are self harming. And because their acts of self harm can be easily written off as just another quirk of childhood they are often not taken seriously. Behaviours such as banging the head on a wall, biting or scratching the self, or continually rubbing their skin with a rubber or pencil are acts of self harm if they are regular or continuous behaviours.
These acts can easily be dismissed as unimportant and something the child will get over. But some professionals believe that this can be the start of a practice that could become much more serious as the youngster grows.
There are many helpful websites that give advice and support about your teen self harming, what to look out for and how to find support. Like this one from the NSPCC And advice for the youngsters themselves like this on the Mind website
But there is less guidance for parents and teachers about very young children since it’s only been recently acknowledged. So it’s important that we are aware of and notice behaviours that could fall into that category so we can investigate possible causes and give support.
We can be proactive in this by remaining engaged with our children and empathic of the fact that however old – or young – children are, they too are affected by overwhelming feelings, frustrations and pressures – particularly at school.
We can invite them to talk about their feelings as part of our family chats, making it into a regular habit. We can give them ideas about how to express their worries by telling a doll, pet, or favourite teddy for example, or using fidget toys or worry balls or similar devices.
Plenty of outdoor and physical activity has a calming effect on emotions and talking whilst walking is often a time when kids will express what’s bothering them as you’re not in a closed environment and not face to face when there’s more pressure. Sometimes saying how you felt about situations you were in and how you coped can help the child understand it’s not just him.
Most importantly, time together for comfort and reassurance is always helpful. And routines like bed time, sitting on your knee, meal times together, or being read too, are the foundation of secure feelings.
Feeling secure, cared for, listened to, and important, is essential for young children and their wellbeing. Hopefully, with our guidance, they’ll learn to express and manage their feelings in such a way that avoids resorting to harmful behaviours.