This past March marked one year since we learned our child was self harming (cutting) and had attempted suicide. Up until this point our child appeared to behave like every other teenager today. When we learned of our child’s confession to a friend, we found it hard to believe. Said child was a model child. If any of my children would have been suspected of suicidal ideation or self harming, I wouldn’t have thought it was this child– but it was.
I’ve spent much of the past year trying to be more attentive; trying to figure out how we overlooked the warning signs that our child was self harming. Some days I feel like an expert, other days I feel just as clueless as I did when this all started. While I am not a doctor, or psychologist even, I have learned to recognize the signs that my child is self harming. I hope they can help you too.
5 Signs Your Child is Self Harming
Noticeable cuts/scratches. Sure. This one sounds easy enough, however, your child will likely have an excuse for it that will sound completely logical and true. My child’s excuse was the dog’s claw did it, they fell, or it was an accident while doing dishes.
A hoodie in Summer? Pay attention to any child wearing clothing that might not be weather appropriate, or covering up with anything they can (blanket, towel, book bag in their lap, etc.). My child suddenly became self-conscious and wouldn’t wear a bathing suit without a cover up. Said child was always the last one in the water and the first one out — so we would be too distracted to notice the scars/cut marks. Understand that scars and fresh wounds can be anywhere on the body. My child’s was the stomach and upper arms because they were easier to hide. Other common places are wrists, thighs, and near the ankle.
Are sharp objects in your home disappearing? I couldn’t keep scissors around for anything! Every pair of scissors I owned from the kids safety scissors to my kitchen shears were disappearing. We found ALL of them hidden in our child room. Look under the bed, dresser, and in their closet. Another place to look is in your child’s bathroom. In the bathroom razors are a given, but they will also hide sharp objects in there too.
Does your child have a sudden fascination with dark entertainment/music. Yes, every child may go through a horror movie stage, but there is a difference between watching a scary movie and it being the only genre of entertainment they want to watch. Have you tried watching a scary movie today that didn’t contain a suicide or self harming scene? It’s nearly impossible.
Protecting their personal items at all costs! Refusal to hand over cell phones for routine check-ins or allow you to grab something from their room or bag. Book bags may hold valuable insight into your child’s mental health and well being. My child has gone as far as to sleep with their book bag to avoid allowing me to look through it. We found draft suicide notes and scissors in personal bags and under child’s bed. Privacy is a tough topic for parents, I know we want to give them their privacy, but we also want to keep them safe. It is a fine line you will have to learn how to dance over and across when necessary.
What to do if you suspect your child is self harming or suicidal?
The first thing you need to do is call your local counseling service or children’s hospital. We didn’t seek help from our pediatrician because they were bound by law to call authorities in our state — voluntary treatment is always less traumatizing to a child, vs. being put in the back of a police car and taken to a the facility mandated by their jurisdiction.
Seek help from the experts! Counseling services, such as Ray of Hope Counseling Services, can determine the severity of your child’s mental health crisis and create a plan that is best for your child. Our child’s counselor coordinated with a children’s hospital to place our child under observation for 72 hours. Afterwards, we had our child on 24 hour watch at home — said child was never alone (a close sibling accompanied child to the restroom and shower.) Home care was followed up by weekly therapy sessions. Therapy began with nonverbal art therapy and progressed at child’s pace.