Learning that your teen is engaged in self-harming behavior brings on a multitude of emotions — confusion and terror likely at the forefront. Cutting releases endorphins that create an addictive connection in the brain over time. In other words, the physical pain offers a temporary escape from the psychological pain your daughter feels, and this activity rewires the brain to expect physical pain in times of stress. Teens struggle to break this habit. As a parent, you know it is your responsibility to help your child through this, but how?
Parents sometimes overreact in various ways, such as smothering a child with attention or additional rules, but this type of response does more harm than good. The best thing that you can do for your child is stay calm. The principles of No-Rescue parenting are founded on the idea that children thrive best when they have space to make and learn from their mistakes. As the opposite of helicopter parenting, No-Rescue parenting means not rescuing your child from the consequences of their behavior.
How Parents Rescue Their Teen
Ways a parent might try to “rescue” their teen when they discover self-harm follow:
- Attempting to make them happier with gifts and privileges
- Attempting constant supervision to make it impossible for them to self-harm
- Imposing additional consequences in effort to deter future self-harm
- Constantly asking whether she has cut herself recently or
- Invading her privacy to determine whether she’s telling the truth.
Alternatives to Helicopter Parenting
Instead of these responses, try a more understanding approach, such as the following:
- Listen to your teen
- Find her a good therapist. She will need to address the psychological aspects of the problem for long-term emotional healing as the physical injuries are only part of the problem.
- Show compassion
- Give her space to grow
- Do not hover or overreact
- Trust that your daughter can overcome the struggles that she faces. If you attempt to solve her problems for her, you will diminish her self-confidence and make the problems worse. Instead of telling her what to do, ask questions that invite her to reach her own solutions.
- Avoid blaming.
- Recognize self-harm for what it is — a coping mechanism — and help your teen find other coping mechanisms instead. Some coping mechanisms which have worked for others involve finding less harmful ways of inducing pain, such as snapping a rubber-band on her wrist or drawing lines on her skin with a pen.
Taking Care of Yourself
And last but not least, remember to take care of yourself during this difficult time. Find someone to talk to who you trust and who specializes in these issues. Ask for advice from your daughter’s therapist, and learn what you can to help yourself and her. Although the thought of self-harm is scary, you and your daughter can overcome this difficulty.