How to tell, and what to do, if your child is self-harming

In my last post, I said I was going to be talking a bit about self-harm. At this juncture, I need to make it clear that I am not a doctor, nor am I a psychologist or any other kind of mental-health expert. I’m just a mum who writes, edits and has many years’ experience within the education sector who is currently writing a novel covering this subject.

As such, I did a lot of online researching and speaking to people who could possibly help, or at least offer advice on how best to write about it without either glamorising or demonising the issue. It’s a tricky subject and I am still not entirely whether I can write the story and do it justice. By chance, I came across several people whose children/teens had either gone through this, or were going through it that time, and the overwhelming feeling I came away with was that these parents blamed themselves. They all said they must have done or said something, or not said or done something, that made their child go down this route. Ultimately, they believed they had failed as parents.

Obviously, I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors (and yes, there probably are some truly awful parents out there), but these people all appeared to be stable, relatively happy, human beings who were doing their very best for their families. Yes, they had their ups and downs (as do we all), but they couldn’t shake the belief that they were to blame for what their child was doing. [See, ‘What can you do to help your child?’ below.]

So I’ve put this together in the hope that it may help you if you find yourself in the position of having a child who may be self-harming, or heading towards it:

So what are the signs to look out for? [Note: the word ‘child’ used below indicates a person under the age of 18 years.]

Firstly, it may surprise you to know that there are two types of self-harm; emotional and physical. Each is different and it’s important to note that the first does not necessarily lead to the second:

  1. Emotional signs

This is a tricky one because not all children who have emotional problems will go on to physically self-harm. Emotional problems can be hard to pinpoint because a lot of children will successfully hide their feelings – you’ll just have the sense that something is not right, or perhaps, put it down to hormonal changes. However, the following issues seem to be at the forefront of the lead into physical self-harm:

  1. Low self-esteem – a child with low self-esteem will blame themselves for everything. They may tell you they are stupid, they’re ugly, nobody likes them, they have no friends because… [insert anything here, but there will be an ultimate reason for them to blame themselves]. Some children will turn these beliefs inwards and begin hurting themselves as punishment for their ‘faults’.
  2. Isolation – a child may withdraw from people, both within the home and outside of it. Again, this can be tricky to identify because as a child matures they may naturally want to spend time alone in their rooms away from everyone else (bear in mind, they could just be interacting on social media and not want you to be privy to their chats!). But if they don’t want to spend any time with the rest of the family, or with friends, it could be that you need to have a gentle chat with them.
  3. Crying – a child can find it hard to talk about their feelings and show this by crying over seemingly ‘silly’ things. This could be because they may not have the linguistic skills to express how they feel – but in some instances, they may not know why they feel like they do. If your child is constantly welling up; if you can’t get to the bottom of it, and if it lasts for a long period of time, it may indicate depression. Adults tend to think of depression as being something which affects only adults, but how many adults have you heard saying to their kids, “What have you got to be upset about?” Children can suffer from this too, and it needs careful handling. See your GP.
  4. Anger – your child may have inexplicable bursts of anger and this anger could be directed inwardly, towards themselves, or outwardly, towards others.
  5. Gaining/losing weight – I imagine we’ve all heard about anorexia and bulimia (in some instances these issues can be caused by a child feeling they have no control over certain important aspects of their lives, whereas they can control what goes into their mouths), but the polar opposite, overeating, is also an emotional way of self-harming.
  6. Abuse of drugs or alcohol.

If your child has any of these issues and you are afraid they are self-harming, please seek advice as soon as possible. Your GP should be your first point of contact, but be aware (UK) that any referrals offered may have a long waiting list and your child may not be offered an appointment for some months. When I asked parents what they did when they became aware of problems, nearly all said they (eventually) went to their GP as the first port of call. Some had GPs who offered appointments for the children to go to talk to them during the wait for the specialist appointment, others didn’t. Support for your child can be a hit or miss affair.

  1. Physical signs

These could be cuts*, burns*, bald patches, or bruises, and are usually delivered to the wrists, thighs, arms, chest or head. A child who is physically self-harming will [usually] try to hide the fact so they may start wearing high-neck sweaters or t-shirts with long sleeves, and will wear trousers rather than skirts.

If you do happen to spot any physical signs, the child may have a ready excuse. ‘It was an accident,’ appears to be a commonplace explanation, often accompanied by a convoluted account of how the accident happened. You need to be aware that your child will have agonised over what they will say should their self-harming become apparent, particularly if this is something they have been doing over a period of time and the explanation will, most likely, not ring true.

Okay, so now you have an idea of what can happen and the kinds of things you should be aware of. If your child is self-harming, it needs careful handling.

What can you do to help your child?

The first and most important thing to do is to stay calm. Seeing evidence that your child is harming themselves will have an enormous emotional effect on you, but losing your temper with them, or dissolving into tears, will not help them. It will simply fill them with guilt and reinforce their beliefs that they are a bad person. You must stay calm. The harsh reality is that your feelings are secondary at the time you make the discovery – your support for your child is what is paramount because you do not want the behaviour to escalate.

Something has made your child want to hurt themselves, and if you want them to be open with you, to help them work out why they are acting this way, they need to trust that they can tell you anything and that you won’t pass judgement on them or blame yourself or take it personally.

If your child wants to tell you about it, shut up and listen. Really listen. Don’t put words in their mouths – hear what they are saying.

Do not belittle what is troubling them. Their reasons could be something you consider to be unimportant. The evidence in front of your eyes shows they are not unimportant to your child.

If your child does open up to you, tell them you understand why they are doing it – even if you really don’t. Tell them you want to help. Ask if they know what triggers them to self-harm and ask them what they want you to do to help them stop. Tell them you know that when they hurt themselves it feels like it’s helping them to manage things/to cope, but tell them you want to help them with whatever is causing the problem so that they don’t need to hurt themselves, (which is better in the long run).

If they won’t talk to you, ask if they will talk to someone else.

If they still refuse, give them the ChildLine number: 0800 1111.

Find something physical they can do to let their feelings out safely when they are overwhelmed, e.g. punching a cushion, or punching/kicking a punch-bag. Tell them they can use it whenever they like with no explanation needed.

Keep a stock of ice cubes in the freezer so your child can hold one until it melts.

Get them to take a look at this site: as there lots of tips they may find useful.

*If your child has cut or burned themselves, you need to ensure they are cleaning the wounds properly. If they have wounds that need medical assistance, get them to hospital immediately.

This next point is one of the hardest for parents, but it is important: don’t smother them. You are going to want to be with them 24/7 to make sure they don’t do it again, but if you give them some privacy it will help build their confidence and trust.

Do not tell anybody other than the people who need to know (GP, school, college) and only then with your child’s knowledge/permission. If they tell you about it and ask you not to tell anyone and you do, any trust they held in you will disappear. They may be embarrassed, feel guilty, know that it is a stupid thing to do, and refuse to let you tell anyone else in the belief that they will think less of them. Wait until they are ready for you to do so. Close family members may pick up on things, but again, only speak to them if your child agrees.

Show them you want to help and that you will listen to whatever they have to say, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Your reactions

You are going to react to this. I know I said above that this is not about you (and it still isn’t), but you are going to have a reaction. As I mentioned at the start, parents will inevitably blame themselves, for not seeing, for saying or doing the wrong things, for a multitude of reasons. Others are angry – with themselves, with the child, with whatever circumstances have brought them to this situation. You need to be able to react, but try not to do it in front of your child. Drive out somewhere secluded, close all the windows and scream out your grief, pain and anger where no-one can hear you.

One parent (whose child eventually received a referral after a 6-month wait) told me that at the first counselling appointment, when her child cried, tears came into her own eyes and she automatically crossed the room to her child’s chair to comfort her. The counsellor was extremely curt, told her to sit back down and said she must not react or she would heap guilt upon her child. As my friend said to me later, ‘She made me feel like I was to blame for XXX’s self-harming. XXX needed a hug. She’d just opened up for the first time since I found out, and it made us both cry. I’m not a robot – I have feelings about all this too, and I need someone to talk to, to make sense of it! And if I don’t react at all, won’t that make XXX feel like I don’t really care?”

She has a point. I don’t know if this was a particularly over-zealous counsellor but the child refused to go back to see her again because of how she treated her mum. They got over it by talking. The floodgates had been opened and her mum was able to pick her way through it without any further outside help. She told me she had no idea if she was doing it right or wrong, but that so long as her child knew she loved her and would help her and never judge her for [what she’d done], they’d wing it.

The last words on this post come from children who were brave enough to talk to me:

15-year-old, A, told me: ‘It’s nothing to do with Mum. This is about me. I know it’s a stupid thing to do but I can’t stop myself. If I don’t do it [cutting] I don’t know if I’m alive. When I hurt myself, I feel something and I know I’m real.’

‘A’ was unable to say why she felt like this.

14-year-old, K, told me that she felt angry about everything. Her parents had recently divorced and both sides were battling for her attention and bad-mouthing each other. She said: ‘I know Dad didn’t love me enough to stay with me and Mum, so why is he pretending he cares now? He was horrible when he was at home, always sarcastic at Mum and ignoring me, but now he suddenly wants me to go stay with him and buys me stuff. He doesn’t want me, he just wants to hurt Mum and I hate him for it, but I hate myself too because I want the stuff and that makes Mum upset because she can’t afford to buy it for me. So if I let him buy me something, I come home and punch myself in the head or in the stomach because then I hurt too, and it’s okay to take the stuff.’

16-year-old, B, refused to eat. He knew it was making him ill, but he liked the power it gave him over his parents: ‘Mum’s always trying to make me eat stuff. She never shuts up about it and Dad’s the same. He shouts. She cries. I’m sick of them telling me what to do all the time. It’s all, go and do your homework [B], go and do this and that and, no, you can’t go round your mate’s when you’ve got all this study to do. I know I need to study! I know I won’t get to uni if I don’t get the grades – they tell us all the time at school. I just want five minutes to be a bloody kid!’

As I said at the start, I am not an expert, so if I have made any mistakes in this please do let me know and I will happily edit any areas that need it. Your experiences may be utterly different from those I have spoken of, and if you would like to comment below to help others who may have experienced the same as you, please, please, do.

Finally, I hope the information I gathered will help, if only in a minor way, if you ever find yourself in this position.

Further help and support for relatives of self-harmers can be found here:



Hi guys!

I’m hoping you are all happy, healthy and enjoying life? As you may have gathered from my previous post, apart from writing my books and short stories, I am covering some other topics – the first of which was in my last post about anxiety and panic attacks. These will be interspersed amidst other bits and pieces that cross my mind, alongside letting you know how the new books are coming along as I am aware how boring these sites can be if they only focus on the writer and their projects. (In truth, it also feels a little self-indulgent to be constantly banging on about my latest book!)

In my next post, I’ll be talking about how, as a parent, you can try to deal with things if your child self-harms. I’ve been talking to several people (all of whom have asked to remain anonymous) who have had to contend with this, some of whom coped admirably, others who fell apart.

In the meantime, if you need some advice on the subject, do take a look at the NSPCC site  and this site  also offers some practical advice.

To add to this (as if I didn’t have enough to do), I’ve also started a new blog that pokes a little fun at life in general. Take a look if you fancy a laugh. I’ve been reliably told these posts are making people literally laugh out loud, which is enough to bring a smile to my own face and gives me the impetus to continue. You can find the link here – and please, do leave me the odd comment if it makes you laugh. Feel free to share so others can find a little levity in their day.

Until next time,

Jill x

P.S: Here’s the link to Big Ted, the first in a series of Terrible Tales. It’s definitely not for kids, so don’t be fooled by the title.


cocktail-828182_1920Have you ever had a friend who was the life and soul of every party? You know, the guy or girl who is up for anything, always bubbly and bright, always a little bit drunk before the night starts? The one who starts off on a high but either ends up ugly drunk crying or snogging someone utterly inappropriate? Yeah, we’ve all had that friend – hell, we may have even been that friend (no judgement here, folks – been there, done some of that, suffered the panic attack during the evening out…)

Or how about this person: the friend who never calls or visits you even though youphone-1889403_1920 call/visit them? The friend who, no matter how many times you make arrangements to go out, cancels at the last minute knowing you’ll understand?

Actually, the chances are that after a while you won’t understand. The chances are you’ll actually be more than a little pissed off with them if they do it more than once or twice. The chances are your friendship will dwindle…

Ever wondered why people act like that? It might surprise you to know, after reading the opening paragraphs, that today I’m writing about anxiety.

The odds are pretty strong that you’ve suffered from it yourself at some stage in your life even if only in a minor capacity – ever had sweaty palms when you met someone new, not wanted to get in a car when someone you don’t know is driving? That’s anxiety on a minor scale. Anxiety in itself is a good thing because it stops us doing things that can be harmful to us. But what if that anxiety becomes overwhelming and out of control?


Real, ongoing, anxiety can be life-limiting and can spring up, seemingly, out of nowhere.

So, presuming you value these people, what can you do to help? I’m actually speaking as a former sufferer of panic attacks, and no, I’ve never admitted it before. There’s (in my head, at least) always been a kind of stigma around them – that sense that non-sufferers will think less of me for it. They hit me in my twenties after I witnessed my mother die unexpectedly, and stopped within a year or so – but I’ve suffered from anxiety ever since to one degree or another.

These are the things I wish I, and my surrounding friends and family, had known then (particularly number 10). I hope they help.

  1. Take a step back and ask yourself why your friend is acting like this. Have they been like it since you first met them or has their behaviour changed over time? Could it be that the problem they told you about six months ago that you dismissed as trivial, wasn’t? If you can come up with a tangible reason, you can wait for a calm moment and carefully and kindly ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. If you can’t come up with a reason (and it’s a friendship you value), go and see them and gently ask if something’s wrong. They may not tell you, of course. They may not know what the problem is. They may just know that everything is too overwhelming and they’re not coping and expect nobody to understand. Even you.
  2. Understand that they are not doing it deliberately. They don’t deliberately set out to annoy/upset you. Their emotions are all over the place and they’re not thinking clearly so they try to cover it up – sometimes, in inappropriate ways.
  3. Be kind. Believe me when I say that anxious people do not like feeling anxious. They are not attention-seeking. They very often spend vast amounts of time beating themselves up without you adding to it. An anxious person will struggle with their emotions every single day and it’s not something they can control. Hell, if they could control it, they would! Who wants to feel afraid and panicky all the time? *** So what do you do if the anxiety escalates into full-blown panic attacks?
  4. Panic attacks are very real things. If you’ve ever had one, you’ll know the sensation that washes over you – the racing heart, the sweating, the chest pains, the inescapable belief that you are going to either faint or vomit, or worse – die. So if you witness a friend or family member having a panic attack, do not ask them if they’re okay (they aren’t) and do not tell them to snap out of it. At the height of a panic attack, they are not in control of themselves and they are not capable of logical thinking. Have you ever been out of control with anger? Has someone telling you to snap out of it ever worked? There you go. They already know it’s irrational but they can’t help themselves at that moment so don’t talk down to them.
  5. With an adult, sit with them patiently as they go through the attack. In silence, if need be. Let them hold on to you if they need to – it could just be that holding their hand helps to ground their feelings, even if you’re not a hand-holding kind of person. Remember to put aside any irritation you may feel. Let them be if they don’t want to be touched but reassure them, in low measured tones, that it’s a panic attack and they’re not going to die if that’s what they’re scared of in that moment.
  6. If it’s your child who is suffering, hold them, even if they are pushing you away. Contain your emotions – they’re struggling with their own so don’t make them feel guilty for making you sad – you can cry when they’re not around. Let them rant and rail at you if need be, but hold them so that they know you love them and are in control (even if you don’t think you are)! They need to know that however they are feeling inside, someone will always love them despite what their emotions are telling them and despite their current behaviour.
  7. Act counter-intuitively. Tell them it’s okay to let the feelings wash over them. Give the sufferer permission to be out of control without making them feel silly. Tell them they’re safe with you and you won’t let anything bad happen. Remember, panic attacks do not kill, even though the sufferer may feel like they’re dying. Sometimes, simply getting through it and knowing nothing terrible happened can lessen the effect of further attacks or even stop them occurring.
  8. They won’t expect you to understand what they’re feeling. Hell, they don’t understand what they’re feeling! But they’ll appreciate it if you try to understand. Without judgment, please, so no telling them not to be so silly – that won’t help!
  9. Don’t panic when you see them panicking – it will fuel their anxieties. Even if you feel helpless, or inadequate, remember that they don’t need to be worrying about your reactions and you don’t need to show them! Stay calm.
  10. A person in the throes of a panic attack is out of control. Don’t fuel it by making it about you. Find a paper bag (brown is the seemingly best kind, but any will do – don’t try it with plastic!) and have them breathe into it. As their breathing rate slows (it’ll be super-fast in the throes of an attack), remove the bag and ask them to inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of ten. Panic is fuelled by oxygen and taking in their own exhaled breath (carbon dioxide) from the bag lowers oxygen intake and therefore lowers the fuel. Another trick is to have them focus on a particular object or spot on the wall and ask them to describe it. Have them hold something and describe what they can feel. If they have bare feet, have them plant them firmly on the floor and tell you how that feels – this technique is called grounding as it gives the sufferer something else to think about. Or have them think about the most beautiful place they can. Ask them to close their eyes and see it in their mind’s eye and then put themselves into it. Something that worked for me (don’t laugh) was to lie in bed (I was a total insomniac at the time) on my back and make my body ramrod rigid. Then, working from my toes, I stiffened them even harder, imagined a warm wave washing over them with a long inhalation, and relaxed them on the exhale. With the next inhale, the warm wave washed up to my shins and I relaxed my lower leg, then my knees, thighs, hips, fingers, lower arms – you get the picture – all the way up to the top of my head. After the first couple of attempts, I was asleep, properly asleep, before I got to my chest. If you sleep well, you’re more in control the following day. Yes, you’ll feel stupid doing it, but proper sleep is necessary to function. (I still do this now if I’ve had a stressful day – it still works!)
  11. When they are over the attack and calmer, (probably best on a day where an attack has not occurred) suggest mindfulness classes, or yoga, and go with them. Physically collect them if you can so they can’t back out.
  12. Suggest they see their GP. Doctors have a variety of things they can do to help nowadays, from prescription drugs to CBT.

Peri-menopause (or, WTF is happening?)

This is a piece I wrote some years back – I came across it and thought it may make you smile.

The perimenopause.

Sounds like a high-class drink doesn’t it? Something sparkly, light and refreshing?

“What’s your tipple?”

“Oh! A bottle of Peri-menopause, please. On ice.”


If only.

It started innocuously enough with what I thought was a touch of flu. I woke up in the small hours having apparently decided to go for a swim in my sleep without bothering to change out of my jim-jams. I was freezing cold yet simultaneously, boiling hot. Flu. Obviously. I went for a quick shower, changed the bedsheets and went back to sleep after tossing and turning until, oh, roughly ten minutes before I was due to get up when I dropped into a coma that was only broken by my daughter’s screeching that I’d slept through the alarm and she was late for school.

For flu, I felt surprisingly chipper during the next day. Life carried on as usual. Apart, that is, from the overwhelming desire to either commit homicide if someone looked at me the wrong way or to burst into tears for the same reason. I put it down to the lack of sleep and promised myself an early night.

Dinner over with, five-year-old daughter in bed snoring sweetly, I had a bath and, book in hand, toddled off to get some much-needed sleep. I was exhausted. But sleep was not my friend that night. As soon as my head hit the pillow and my eyelids closed everything that had ever gone wrong in my life (and, like most people’s lives, that’s quite a lot) put in an appearance and said, ‘hello, bitch!’. Memories danced around my head like evil fairies and became, in those wee small hours, devastating indictments of me. I was a horrible person! I sobbed myself to sleep feeling utterly worthless. And I woke about an hour and a half later having been swimming again.

After a week of this, I knew it wasn’t the flu. As I stood in the shower (my neighbours must have wondered what the hell I was doing every night) rinsing the salt from my body, I knew there was more to it. All sorts of things went through my head, ranging from cancer to HIV (nothing simple, obviously, never mind the fact that I’d not had sex with anyone since my divorce – and I’d been with my ex for fourteen years and this was two years later – so that was not the likeliest of scenarios).

I went to see my GP who listened to me intently, laughed at my self-diagnosis, and announced that I was depressed. Considering that my ex had moved our family from one end of the country to the other (where we knew nobody) and then walked out to go and live back with his mother less than a year later, leaving me to deal with the people he owed money to turning up on my doorstep with regular monotony, and the very real threat of losing my home, I thought she may have a point. Not knowing any better, I presumed that depression came with night sweats and feeling like shit. She prescribed me Paroxetine.

Three weeks later I was back to see her again. Although I appreciate that it probably works well for the vast majority of others, Paroxetine made me feel seriously suicidal – by this time, what with the nightly swimming sessions and lack of sleep, I was ready to jump off a bridge. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to check out the side-effects and realised what was happening. I stopped taking them. The (alarmed) doctor agreed and suggested yoga as exercise helps with depression.

The only classes I could find were held at night and, as a single parent living in the arse-end of nowhere with a five-year-old and no babysitter, were never going to happen. I started exercising on my own after I’d put my daughter to bed. I got fitter, but the night sweats got worse. They started to happen twice or three times a night. Every night. I’d fall asleep, wake up dripping, eventually go off again and reawaken an hour or so later, wet again.

It made me scared to go to bed. So, late one night, with sleep apparently having become my worst enemy, Google became my new best friend. I typed in my symptoms and hit return. It was narrowed down to three things: TB, cancer or the menopause.

I went back to my GP and she said, “Of course! You’re in the perimenopause!”

I was only in my mid-forties. Surely that didn’t happen to women until they got to their fifties or sixties? “Oh,” she said, “it’ll probably be over within the next couple of years; unless you’re one of the unlucky ones – it can hang around for decades for some people.”

Fuck me sideways! Decades?!? Decades of changing the bed every day? Decades of absolutely no control over the horrifying thoughts plaguing me daily? I’d always wondered why my mum said she was coming back as a man. If I could have grown fruit and two veg, at that point I’d have happily changed sex.

I thought about the word ‘perimenopause’. I compared it to that sparkly, light, refreshing bottle of something chilled. And I laughed.

Sparkly? I suppose the rivers of sweat that trickle down my sodden neck could sparkle in the right light.

Light? I felt so dull and dim-witted it was like my brain had taken a vacation.

Refreshing? Well, having become surgically attached to the shower every night was quite refreshing at the time, I suppose.

Thank God it only happened at night…

Fast forward a decade:

It didn’t only happen at night – but more on that at a later date…

Terrible Tales

Hello all!

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I last blogged  – snow, work and other commitments have prevailed and for that, I apologise.

I’ve been editing, writing and completing the day job ever since the New Year. Consequently, I now look like a member of the Walking Dead, the bags under my eyes have their own suitcases and any social life I once had flew out of the window long ago. I can’t see it coming back anytime soon, either.

Earlier this year, I was commissioned to write a selection of short stories that will be used countrywide for children’s SAT revision and testing and I am thoroughly enjoying writing them.

Big Ted

Added on to this is the new series of novelettes I have begun which is in direct opposition to the SAT children’s stories. This is a dark, twisted and somewhat warped series only for adults, coming under the series title of ‘Terrible Tales’. The first, ‘Big Ted’, is due for release very, very soon and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the cover.

It’s the first book I’ve written that necessitates a trigger warning as the subject matter in this first story is somewhat sensitive. I’ll be sharing the link as soon as it is released, but you have been warned!

In the meantime, here’s a link to the latest book I edited:

If you like a decent bad boy, enjoy a damned good storyline and don’t mind a bit of rumpy-pumpy, you’ll be blown away by this book. I loved working on it!

So, until Big Ted is released, I’m hoping by the next time I write on here Spring will have well and truly sprung.

I am so over snow!

Jill x