Reaching and Helping Teens Who Self-Injure (SI): Suggestions for the Family

As a parent or guardian, understanding the behavior of a normal teenager has its challenges, so dealing with a teen who self-injures (SI) can be quite difficult and confusing.  The way in which you respond to your child’s SI can make a difference.  Here are some tips from See My Pain: Creative Strategies and Activities for Helping Young People Who Self-Injure by Susan Bowman, Ed.S, L.P.C. and Kaye Randall, LMSW.


  • Accept your child though you do not accept his/her behavior
  • Let your child know how much you live him/her, not only when he/she SI, but at other times as well.
  • Understand that this is his/her way of coping with the intense pain that he/she feels inside.
  • Encourage healthier methods of coping by allowing him/her to brainstorm other ways other than hurting him/herself.
  • Listen!  Keep communication open by talking about things that would interest him/her even if it doesn’t interest you.
  • Ask open questions (what or how) to encourage him/her to open up.  Allow conversations to revolve around what he/she wants to talk about no matter how silly or crazy it may seem to you.
  • Allow him/her to share what they’re feeling deep inside either with words (journaling) or in art (drawing painting, creating) or any other way he/she can communicate their feelings.
  • Make your home a “Safe Place” by removing anything that could be used as a tool for SI.
  • Have fun together!  Try to do some fund things together (let him/her choose a fun activity that is interactive, not just going to the movies).  Although he/she may complain at first, your child really does want to spend time with you.
  • Discover what his/her personal strengths are and encourage him/her to use those strengths during difficult times.
  • Help your child to get involved in some area of interest, after-school activity, a good cause, or other good-will effort.
  • Encourage some kind of outreach in the community, e.g., volunteering at a local animal shelter or wildlife sanctuary, helping an older person at a nursing home, tutoring a young child after school, or mentoring a troubled younger child.



  • Say or do anything to cause guilt or shame (e.g., “Why would you do such a thing?”, “How could you?”).
  • Act shocked or appalled by his/her behavior.
  • Talk about his/her SI in front of friends or with other relatives.
  • Try to teach them what you think they should do.
  • Use punishment or negative consequences when he/she SI (The reason he/she feels the need to SI is because he/she is hurting emotionally about someone or something).
  • Overprotect by monitoring every move he/she makes, but do notice what’s going on.
  • Deny that your child is self-injuring as a way of coping.
  • Keep your child from seeing friends, but monitor who he/she does see.
  • Blame yourself for your child’s behavior.
  • Conduct room searches.  They produce resentment (Walsh).
  • Minimize SI by saying “you’re just doing it for attention” or “it’s just a fad” (Walsh).

By Susan Bowman, Ed.S, L.P.C. & Kaye Randall, LMSW

From See My Pain: Creative Strategies and Activities for Helping Young People Who Self-Injure

©YouthLight, Inc.,


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