“Help! My daughter is cutting. What should I do?” This question was not uncommon to receive from parents raising middle and high school-aged children over the past three decades. Here’s an initial response that I hope will be useful to other online parents when they learn that their child been cutting themselves.
As soon as possible, choose a time that will not be interrupted by family schedules, cell phone calls, friends, etc, and sit down and talk with your daughter. Tell her that you’ve noticed the scratches, cuts, and her attempts to cover the area up with clothing, bracelets, and so forth.
Most girls (and sometimes boys, too) will cut on their non-dominant arm. Be aware though that some girls will cut in lines from the top of the bicep all the way down to the wrist before the cutting is detected. Some girls will cut on their thighs, too, which can go largely undetected until summer clothing or bathing suits are worn.
If your daughter tells you that she’s only cut once, and this was the first time, just hear that, but know too that generally that isn’t true. Don’t make an issue out of “how many times,” because what matters most is that you’re aware of it now and you will do something about it. It helps to remember that your child is likely feeling ashamed and confused about why she’s cutting as well, so blaming her for not coming to you sooner just isn’t helpful with the work that lies ahead.
Get Help Now-Don’t Wait!
Make an appointment with a licensed therapist or qualified counselor. If you don’t know who to call, your daughter’s school may have a school social worker/Outreach Worker, or school nurse who should know of some area therapists that have had a good track record of working with young people in your area. (Remember to let your daughter know that you have spoken with someone at her school because they likely will want to check on her too.) Your family physician may also be able to provide you with a reliable referral. Subscriber support services at your HMO or Health Insurance Company should have a list of area therapists as well. Once you have narrowed down the list of potential therapists to consider, search their professional listings online and look for focus areas of their practice to determine if they have worked with adolescents at risk, etc.
Some Don’ts to Consider Remembering:
- Don’t haul your daughter off to your own therapist! Too many parents do this and the outcomes are usually not good for too many reasons to discuss here.
- Don’t let your child talk you out of taking action. Your daughter will likely promise not to do it again. If so, accept that as a start and tell her that you’ll begin with that as a hope, but you’re going to get help anyway.
- Don’t allow another family member to berate and scold your daughter for cutting herself. That never helps.
- Don’t automatically assume that once your child is connected to a therapist that all will be well right away. There are no, none whatsoever, quick treatments and fixes to dealing with cutting.
- Don’t make the assumption that the cutting is the sole issue. When children, mostly pre-teens and teens cut or do other things to intentionally harm their bodies, it’s usually a sign of a deeper seated issue that can be connected to depression, low self-esteem or trauma history.
- Don’t blame yourself for your daughter’s (or son’s) situation. Some kids have none of the typical makers for being self-abusive, and they still cut. Just be resolved to take action. Almost without exception, the number one most important person in your daughter’s or son’s life is YOU, the parent. They need you and expect you to help them help themselves.
- Don’t automatically assume that because your child is cutting that she/he is also suicidal. Being suicidal is always a very close cousin to those who cut, but it does not always mean that your child does not want to live. Most of my clients over the years who were cutters were not suicidal. This does not mean that the matter is not serious; it just means that you have time to seek additional support. It’s important to remember this.
- Don’t waste your time, and inconvenience others in your household, by removing every sharp object in the home. Kids who are going to cut will find sharp objects no matter what. (Of course, obvious weapons should always be kept under lock and key anyway.)
Kids Health Kids Health is an excellent site with valuable resources on a wide range of issues that impact families. I highly recommend this site to anyone who works with or is raising young people.
Psychology Today: My daughter is cutting herself
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