Maryland School Mental Health Alliance*
Self-Injurious Behavior in Children and Adolescents
Information for Parents and Caregivers
Children who participate in self-injurious behavior perform deliberate and repetitive acts of harming their own body as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings and thoughts. Some forms of self-injurious behavior include cutting, carving, scratching, burning, branding, biting, bruising, hitting, and picking and pulling skin and hair.
Why do we care?
- Children who participate in self-injurious behavior have difficulty talking about their feelings.
- Children who participate in self-injurious behavior are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as substance or alcohol abuse.
- Children who participate in self-injurious behavior usually have additional mental health problems, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
What can we do about it?
- Acknowledge that the behavior exists. Talk openly and non-judgmentally about the behavior to help reduce the shame and secrecy that often surrounds self-injury.
- Be aware that most teenagers engaging in self-injurious behavior are not attempting suicide.
- Be cautious of punishing a child that engages in self-injurious behavior. Punishing may increase the child's troubled emotions.
- Be aware that the child's behavior is only a symptom of a more serious underlying problem.
- Seek professional assistance to treat the child. Make certain he/she has experience in working with self-injurious behaviors and related disorders.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families No. 73. Retrieved
January 25, 2006
Ferentz, Lisa R. Understanding Self-Injurious Behavior. Retrieved January 25, 2006
*Developed by the Center for School Mental Health in collaboration with the Maryland School Mental Health Alliance.