Maryland School Mental Health Alliance*
Self-Injurious Behavior in Children and Adolescents
Information for Teachers and School Staff
Students who exhibit self-injurious behavior perform deliberate and repetitive acts of injuring 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. Self-injury is a serious illness that is often accompanied by other mental health conditions like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or anorexia nervosa.
Why do we care?
- Students who exhibit self-injurious behavior have difficulty verbally communicating their feelings with others.
- Students who exhibit self-injurious behavior are more likely to engage in other types of risky behavior, such as substance or alcohol abuse.
- Students who exhibit self-injurious behavior are more likely to isolate themselves from classmates.
What can we do about it?
- Offer support and reassurance to the student. It is important not to alienate a self-injuring student but rather to build trust.
- Students should be under supervision at all times, until they have been assessed as safe or given over to the care of their parents.
- Be aware that the student's behavior is usually a symptom of a more serious underlying problem. Talk to the student about what's going on in his/her life that could be triggering this behavior.
- Notify the school clinicians about the student's behavior, and ask them to provide additional information and resources to the students and caregivers.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (1999). Facts for Families No. 73: Self-Injury in Adolescents. Retrieved January 25, 2006 from
Ferentz, Lisa R. (2002). Understanding Self-Injurious Behavior. Retrieved January 25, 2006
Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2004). Mental Health and Growing Up Factsheet No.26: Deliberate self-harm in young people. Retrieved February 1, 2006
*Developed by the Center for School Mental Health in collaboration with the Maryland School Mental Health Alliance.