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Divisions > Student, Family, and School Support > Student Services and Alternative Programs > Self-Injury
Information for Parents and Caregivers


Maryland School Mental Health Alliance*
Self-Injurious Behavior in Children and Adolescents
Information for Parents and Caregivers

Definition

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.

Key Resources

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


Helpful Links

 

*Developed by the Center for School Mental Health in collaboration with the Maryland School Mental Health Alliance.


Contact Information
Brian J. Bartels, M.A., NCSP, Specialist, Psychological Services
Division of Student, Family, and School Support
Student Services and Alternative Programs Branch
Maryland State Department of Education
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone:  410-767-0294
Fax:  410-333-8148
Email:  bbartels@msde.state.md.us
 Resources
Information for Teachers
Information for Parents and Caregivers
List of References
 Annotated Code of Maryland
§7-427 Awareness, training and distribution of materials related to self-mutilation
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