What are Signs of Self-Harm in Kids and Teens?
It can be difficult to know when a child or teen is engaging in self-harm or self-injury. Self-harm behaviors are often done in private, and the intent to self-harm might not be noticeable. Signs and symptoms of self-harm behavior can vary and may include:
- Spending a significant time alone
- Relationship challenges with friends and family
- Withdrawing from once-loved activities
- Impulsive behaviors
- Classifying injuries as “accidents”
- Wearing long sleeves or pants, even on hot days
- Broken bones
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Emotional instability
- Increased anxiety
Note that the above behaviors do not always mean a child or teen is self-harming.
Why Do Kids and Teens Self-Harm?
Emotions and trauma can be difficult to handle at any age, let alone as a child or teen in developmental stages of life. Sometimes, these feelings are overwhelming and get in the way of everyday life, leading to a need for relief. There are many reasons why kids and teens might self-harm, including:
- Generating Relief: This can help to shift focus from emotional pain to physical pain. When someone engages in enough damaging self-harm, they can create a natural high of a pain-relieving chemical, endogenous opioids. When this occurs, it can feel like it temporarily takes the pain away. The more one does it, the better the sense of relief feels.
- Social Signaling: They are trying to communicate they need help but are unsure how to use their words. This can also mean they are trying to show how much pain they are in, so someone can understand the depth of their emotions.
- Social Isolating: Their way to communicate that they feel they are not good enough, in an attempt to push people away.
- Self-Punishing: They feel they deserve to be punished because they believe they are a bad person, a disappointment or that their issues cannot be fixed.