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Self-Mutilating 11-Year-Old

Question:

My 11-year-old daughter started cutting her arms in response to children making fun of her at school. Though she said she would not do it again because she didn’t like it, I am concerned that she will repeat the behavior. I am addressing the unkindness of her classmates with the school’s staff.

 

Answer:

Unfortunately, there is no statistical data on whether children who say they stop cutting themselves actually do stop. Every child is different. Keep an eye on her, certainly. But instead of focusing on the cutting itself, focus on why she was cutting herself.  

Many kids who self harm are more emotionally sensitive than other kids. They truly feel their emotions much faster and become overwhelmed with those feelings. Desperate to find relief, they cut themselves. It is not clear why this brings relief, but cutting seems to help some people handle their emotional distress. But this is only temporary. The bullying at your daughter’s school is the powder keg that has ignited feelings that she is unable to manage.

So your goal right now is to teach your daughter how to cope with her feelings in a healthy way. Positive and negative coping mechanisms exist. Self harm is negative. Ask her how she copes with her emotions now that she does not cut. Offer some suggestions as well.  

Children who use coping skills to calm themselves down can then problem-solve without their emotions getting in the way. For a  list of coping skills, go to  YourLifeYourVoice.org.

Seeking help from a therapist who can teach your daughter better ways to manage her feelings is another option. If your daughter is really emotional, therapy can help with emotional outbursts, depression, self harm and feeling bad in general.

 

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