Self-harm: Parents' experiences

Personal strategies to help the young person

The people we spoke to told us about ways in which they helped the young person who was self-harming. Many stressed the need to understand the reasons for self-harm (see ‘What parents and carers think are the reasons for self-harm’). They emphasised the importance of encouraging the young people to talk about their feelings and for families to listen sympathetically. Parents tried to make their child feel better by reminding them of happy times in the past, getting them to think about positive future possibilities, and planning activities to take their mind off their worries or build their self-esteem. Jo and her daughter did baking and sewing together. ‘She needs to do something to dissipate her energy’, Jo told us. It gave her daughter a sense of achievement and ‘gets you through another day’.
Some people had searched for information which would help them support the young person. Vicki wanted to get to the root cause of why her daughter felt like self-harming. She suggested some of the distraction techniques she had read about to her daughter, who didn’t think they were sensible. Audrey researched post-traumatic stress disorder so she could help her husband and suggest coping strategies. She wanted a better understanding of the illness and the medication he was taking. Jane S wanted to understand her daughter’s point of view. She said she had to ‘switch off my emotions, my mother’s heart, and become almost like a therapist.’ She worked with her daughter to overcome her problems.
Parents told us about other things they had tried in order to help their child. Jackie did Reiki, meditation and healing with her daughter, and sent her to school with Rescue Remedy (a homeopathic preparation). She made sure her daughter had plenty of sleep and a healthy diet with lots of vitamins. Pat hoped a multivitamin regime would help his daughter. Sarah Z’s daughter found it hard to talk to her parents so they introduced a ‘Secret Squirrel’ procedure where she could write her thoughts in a diary which her parents could read. Liz recommended a system where her daughter could send her a blank text when she was feeling low and it was difficult to talk. 

Making home life as good as possible was also important. Anna wanted to provide a clear structure and set of boundaries for her daughter, while making sure ‘she felt incredibly loved’. Ann took time off work to help her daughter get into a routine and find a purpose. Other parents tried to make their home a safe welcoming place, and to let their children know how much they were loved. Annette constantly told her son that she loved him and how wonderful he was (see clip above). 
People also thought it was important to have support themselves (see also ‘Support for parents and carers’). ‘You can’t do it on your own’, Jackie told us. ‘You need to have a good support network, good friends, good mental state yourself, you’ve got to be good within yourself.’ Anna said it was useful for parents to have other interests to ‘stay sane’ so that self-harm was not always the focus. Audrey needed to keep in contact with her friends, who were her ‘lifeline’. Looking after herself also included keeping in touch with her GP, and eating healthily. She said it was important not to forget about ‘you time’ and for both her and her husband who was self-harming to have a ‘nice chilled, relaxed time.’
Carers also acknowledged that the person who self-harmed had to want to be helped. Jackie said ‘Ultimately it’s my daughter that’s turned it around though… she’s the one that’s helped herself.’ Audrey told us: ‘it’s about the two of you working together because I can only help my husband if he’s willing to take the help.’ She stressed the need for patience: ‘It’s about not giving up. It’s about understanding what they’re going through… It takes time. …It’s hard but it’s worth it. When you see end results of your loved ones doing things that they never thought they would do, it’s heartwarming to see it.’

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