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Does it scare you when you find cuts or what appears to be self-harming injuries on your child/teen?

Self-harming can be one of the scariest things parents face with their kids. Most do not understand why their kiddo would intentionally hurt themself. Self-injury can be done with knives, fingernails, nail clippers, teeth, fists, lighters, and many other everyday objects that young people have access to.

Most people assume that if a person is harming themself then they are likely suicidal. What we have learned is that this is not necessarily the case. Self-injury in medical and mental health communities is often referred to as Non-Suicidal Self Injurious (NSSI) behaviors. Research shows that most who self-harm are not doing it with the intent to die.

  • Manage or reduce severe distress or anxiety and provide a sense of relief.

  • Provide a distraction from painful emotions through physical pain.

  • Feel a sense of control over the body, feelings, or life situations.

  • Feel something — anything — even if it's physical pain when feeling emotionally empty.

  • Express internal feelings in an external way.

  • Communicate feelings of stress or depression to the outside world.

  • Punish oneself.

It is important to seek mental health support if you find signs of your child or teen harming themself. Things to look out for:

  • Unexplained cuts, scratches, bruises, or other wounds, often on the wrists, arms, thighs, or torso, which they may explain as the result of accidents

  • Wearing clothes that cover up the skin, such as long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather

  • Impulsive and unstable behavior

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

  • Blood stains on bedding, clothing, towels, or tissues

  • Having sharp objects in their possession, including razors, safety pins, nail scissors, knives, needles, shards of glass, or bottle caps

  • Spending long periods of time alone, often in the bathroom or bedroom

  • Increased isolation and social withdrawal

  • Avoiding situations in which they need to reveal skin, such as swimming or changing in a locker room

Additional Articles to support you:


  1. Peterson J, Freedenthal S, Sheldon C, Andersen R. Nonsuicidal self injury in adolescents. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2008;5(11):20-26. PMID:19724714

  2. Stallard P, Spears M, Montgomery AA, Phillips R, Sayal K. Self-harm in young adolescents (12–16 years): Onset and short-term continuation in a community sample. BMC Psychiatry. 2013;13(1):328. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-328

  3. Sheehy K, Noureen A, Khaliq A, et al. An examination of the relationship between shame, guilt and self-harm: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. 2019;73:101779. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2019.101779

  4. Hetrick SE, Subasinghe A, Anglin K, Hart L, Morgan A, Robinson J. Understanding the needs of young people who engage in self-harm: a qualitative investigation. Front Psychol. 2020;10:2916. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02916

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