There a number of ways to respond to self-harm. It may be that you choose to dismiss the comment. Or perhaps you’re straight on the phone to the parent to share what you’ve be told.
I think we need to recognise we need to take a step back first. It can often be a challenge to know the difference between intent and exaggeration. Between what is said with purpose and what is said out of frustration.
Children can often simply repeat phrases they’ve heard which feel like the right response for them. And so it’s easy to dismiss a provocative statement as mere hyperbole.
My 10 year old daughter told me her friend wanted to stab herself because a boy dumped her.
So how do I respond to my daughter saying that her friend told her she wanted to stab herself because a boy dumped her?
Considering they are 10, it is possible to be just frustration talking. Yet at the same time there needs to be recognition that both my daughter and her friend may need some support.
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Having a conversation about self-harm needs to be done sensitively. I don’t wish to concern or worry my daughter and nor do I want to dismiss the emotional payload that having that information can have. So I simply ask her whether she felt her friend would follow-through or was serious about doing that. I let her evaluate the comment.
From her response I can gauge how legitimate the comment is.
When she replies that she doesn’t believe her friend would do anything like that then I focus on how she feels about the comment. I want to know whether it’s something she wants to understand and talk about or whether it doesn’t really come onto her radar.
I follow up by saying if you ever want to talk about it or understand more then she should come and ask. I make sure she checked in with her friend the next day to see how she’s doing.
There is a fine line to tread from being alarmist and cautious when it come to self-harm.
I don’t want to dismiss it as a reality nor do I want to ignore my daughter’s feelings over it. Underlying all that I also wanted her to feel that I was available for her to share or talk through anything that was bothering her.
I want to also underline that the language her friend used is relatively serious and it’s not to be dismissed casually; all the while not wanting to create unnecessary concern or worry.
There was no cause for concern. Her friend the next day was absolutely fine and I simply reminded my daughter whenever she was concerned to let me know and we could talk.
Because I wanted to remind her that I take her life and her world seriously. That I’m there as support whenever she may need it. And, for our relationship both longterm and shortterm, I feel that is more important than anything.
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.
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