Parenting to Stop Self Harming Behavior

Ok.  I promised I’d tell you how Maude, Watchful’s new therapist, wants us to handle his self harming.  It seems pretty strange, but it’s working so far.

To recap, 8-year-old Watchful has been hitting himself, injuring himself by throwing himself against hard objects, and discussing his plans for killing himself.

Maude says we need to demonstrate to Watchful that we can keep him safe, even from himself.  Easier said than done, was my first thought, thinking of a panicking child who is intent on hurting himself.

But actually, her method isn’t super hard.

1)  Project Calm and Confident Vibes.  When Watchful is hurting himself, the first step is to avoid showing we’re upset, worried, scared, or angry.  We are to remain calm.  We are to project confidence that we will be able to keep Watchful safe, even from himself.  Being calmly confident is probably the hardest part, but Maude suggests that continuing to repeat confident statements (see #3) will help us develop that inner calm during the most tense moments.

2)  Do Not Verbalize Undesired Behaviors.  If Watchful is punching himself, we should NOT say “don’t hit yourself” or “don’t hurt yourself.”  Why?  When a child is an agitated mental state, hearing the word “hit” or “hurt” can trigger the child to continue doing that action.

3)  Confidently State What Behavior  You Expect to See.  If Watchful is bending his fingers backwards, we should say “I am waiting to see safe hands” or “I am confident you will start being kind to your hands.”  If Watchful says he will kill himself, we should say “I am here to help keep you safe and I know we are going to get through these big feelings safely” or “I am really good at keeping kids safe and I am confident that you will soon calm down and choose to be kind to your body.”

Three steps to reducing self-harm.  Seems quite doable.  And so far, we’ve had occasion to try it out twice and it’s worked both times.  Yay!

Too Young for Suicidal Thoughts?

At what age should you take a child’s self-harming or suicidal thoughts seriously?  8-year-old Watchful is doing these things, and his social worker doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal.

But she’s wrong.

We don’t like to think that a small child can honestly want to hurt themselves or take their own life.  But it happens. As a (bio, adoptive, foster) mom, I’ve seen traumatized children find ways to harm themselves.  I remember one child’s first plan was to find a snake to bite ’em, just like how Cleopatra committed suicide.  Seems laughable.  Same child eventually threw their self out of a moving car.  Not so funny.  At age 6.  Really, really not funny.

Another child, age 10, declared no more eating ever.  Just wait ’til that child gets really hungry and that problem will go away, right?  Um, it’s been several years and that child still has issues with chronic malnutrition and being underweight as they don’t eat sufficient food.

So now that Watchful has talked about ways he wants to die, says life is pointless, has repeatedly hit himself, has skipped at least one meal every day for over a week, talks constantly about death, blood, and bruises… well, listen up, social worker.  It’s serious!!!

Kendrea Johnson, aged 6, hung herself with a jump rope

Gabriel Myers, aged 7, hung himself with a shower hose

Brandajah Smith, aged 5, shot herself

Last week, social worker, I asked you for an urgent doctor’s appointment, but Watchful is still waiting.  His life is at risk!  So don’t just tell me that “maybe the psychologist will call next week to arrange an appointment.”