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COVID-19 And Self-Harm In Children

COVID-19 and Self-Harm in Children

“…when I look at my arms, I don’t think revolutionary. I think sad, and pain, but not revolutionary.”

― Kathleen Glasgow, Girl in Pieces

Although lock down has been softened and society begins to re-open the effects of the virus are still with us with the end still far from our view. Parents have certainly had their hands full working from home, or in some cases as key workers to help the public. Problems have been mounting and many people have been facing stress with their finances, being furloughed or losing a job completely. And if there wasn’t enough to worry about parents have become their child’s main educator and homeschooling has been challenging for most.  Children are used to having a routine and being with their friends and without a bit of normal in their lives it is becoming clear to many parents that their children are getting anxious, stressed and worried about the situation we all find ourselves in. In some households, parents are noticing that their child is resorting to acts of self-harm as a way to cope through their sadness and emotional distress.

Self-harm is not an easy topic to talk about, but it is an important one. In 2018 the Good Childhood Report explored self-harm in children and uncovered some concerning facts and statistics that show the issue is more common than many people may imagine. They reported:

  • 1 in 6 young people have self-harmed in the last year;
  • Based on these figures, nearly 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK in the same 12-month period;
  • Girls are more than twice likely to self-harm than boys;
  • Young people who attracted to the same of both genders are at a higher risk;
  • Children with low well-being or poor mental health are more likely to self-harm.

Why Might a Child or Teenager Self-Harm?

With reasons being different for every young person or child, the causes of self-harm in kids are often complicated. Sometimes, the reasons for self-harm can be so complicated that even the child or teenager won’t be certain.

Releasing tension or dealing with challenging emotions is what leads many young people to self-harm. If they’re struggling with some form of emotional pain, the physical pain of hurting themselves can feel like a distraction.

When a young person begins to self-harm, the popular psychology quote ‘all behaviour is communication’ becomes particularly true. This behaviour is often caused by a variety of factors, and it’s always worth trying to discover what those factors are. Children may be more likely to self-harm if they’re going through certain difficult experiences or emotions, such as…

  • Eating disorders, depression or anxiety;
  • Loneliness or being bullied;
  • Family dramas or grieving;
  • Feeling like they don’t have control over their lives, or feeling frustrated or numb;
  • Experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect;
  • Feeling like they’re not good enough or having poor self-confidence.

How Can I Tell if a Child or Teenager Is Self-Harming?

If you’re worried something’s wrong, it’s important to trust your instincts. It can be hard to recognise the signs of self-harm in children and teenagers, but there are some signs that you can watch for, including…

  • Wearing long sleeves when the weather is hot;
  • Finding bloody bandages or tissues in their room, or blood stains on clothing;
  • Risky behaviour like taking drugs or fighting, or outbursts of anger;
  • Blaming themselves for things and having a low mood or low self-esteem;
  • Spending a lot of time alone in their room or becoming very quiet;
  • Unexplained bite-marks on their body, or grazes, cuts or burns.

In the year 2018-19, 6% of all Childline counselling sessions related to self-harm.

How Can You Help Your Child Through the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Recent announcements from Governments are allowing schools to re-open. However, it is estimated that 46% of parents in the UK have chosen not to send their children back to school; or Local Authorities have chosen not to reopen schools due to safety reasons. Regardless if a child is at school or remaining in the home the facts and figures show the need for support and services for young people across the UK. Like adults some children may not be showing any signs of distress – but this can change later on. Children handle stress in different ways so things to look out for include:

  • being angry;
  • agitated or anxious;
  • They may wet the bed or become very clingy.

It is important to spend quality time together. Spend time away from homeschool or any other activities such as watching television or playing video games. It’s a great time to enjoy the fresh air and go for walks and listen and talk to your children. MindEd is a free online educational resource on children and young people’s mental health for all adults, which can support parents and carers through these exceptional circumstances.

Talk openly about the situation. Exchange facts and thoughts about the virus and what is going on. Discuss what is being done to help keep everyone safe. Resources available include the Children’s Commissioner’s Children’s Guide to Coronavirus, or the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) have produced a storybook developed by and for children around the world affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Create a new routine: Life is changing for all of us for a while. Routine gives children and young people an increased feeling of safety in the context of uncertainty, so think about how to develop a new routine, especially if they are not at school.

For more information about self-harm, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Self Harm which explores the issues in a detailed and practical way, so that both sufferers from self-harm and their nearest and dearest can begin to deal with this terrible compulsion. Need2Know also have some great books about ADHD, anorexia and bullying. Whether you’re a concerned parent, friend, or trying to deal with your own self harm, we have all the information you need!

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