Do elementary age kids cut? Part III



In Part I and Part II about elementary age kids cutting and self-harming we explored:

  • The increase in self-harm
  • Why they cut and self-harm
  • How to recognize the signs of children who might become engaged in self-harming.

In this post, let’s take a look at what to actually look for in a child that is self-harming and how you can help. Keep in mind just because a child picks at a scab or has scratches, etc. doesn’t always mean he or she is a candidate for self-harm. It takes diligence on your part and keen observation. Also remember it is the repeated behavior with the behavior becoming a pattern of self-harm whether it’s cutting, scratching, head banging or other forms of self-mutilation.

What to look for

  • Scabs that don’t appear to be healing
  • Mysterious scratches that keep reappearing on the arms, legs
  • Children wearing long sleeves and long pants in warm conditions (they are trying to hide their marks)
  • Pock-marked skin or scars from previous scratches, cuts, etc.
  • Fresh bruises
  • Burns
  • Children hiding scissors, stick pins, staples or anything they can use on their skin that will scratch, cut or leave a mark.
  • Razors or objects such as paper clips, staples, etc. with blood on them in the trash

I had a child one time that kept snitching our pushpins off the items hung on the wall. I couldn’t figure out why the items on the wall suddenly fell down or looked crooked. It took me a while to figure out that she was the one hiding the pushpins in her pocket. She was using them to stick herself and scratch her arms.

A pediatrician shared her personal experience with me on the ACES Connection website. “My self-harm was serious head banging and hitting myself in the head and other parts of the body with craftsman tools and my fist.  I didn’t cut at elementary school age.  In fact I almost never cut unless I was totally dissociated and had no idea I had done such a thing (which only happened once).”

What you can do as a children’s minister or leader

It can be disturbing as well as disheartening to discover a child in your class is self-harming. You have to keep in mind that the child is hurting and they self-harm in order to distract themselves from painful feelings.

  • Don’t show your alarm to the child
  • Stay calm and collected
  • Develop strong connections with this child
  • Show the child you can be there to listen to them without being judgmental
  • Ask open ended questions to encourage the child to share with you
  • Pray for and with the child
  • Model appropriate coping skills
  • Share your experiences of coping with stress and painful experiences with the child
  • Contact the parent
    • Share your observations
    • Present the parent with a list of mental health experts who can help the child and the parent. Not every psychologist, therapist or counselor can deal appropriately with self-harming in children this young
    • Pray with the parent
    • Assure the parent that you will be there (or you have people lined up) to walk them through this troubling time
    • Follow through and make sure the parent has contacted a professional

How to help the parent

Most parents are going to feel guilty. They may continually blame themselves or the other parent for their child self-harming. This is not the time to get involved in the “blame game” many divorced parents play. Stay neutral and continue to bring the conversation back to helping the child.

Support the single parent during this time. They may wonder

  • Is she doing this because I can’t spend time with her?
  • How can I support my child and carry the weight of parenting alone?
  • How am I going to get through this time?
  • Are other parents going to look at me and know my kid cuts?
  • Is my ex going to try and take my child away from me?

The questions and blame will be endless. They are going to need church family support. Because of confidentiality issues you might not be able to share specific details with other congregants. You can, however, request prayer or ask for the parent to be placed on the church prayer list.

Set up a regular time to meet and pray with the parent. Or find someone that can walk alongside the parent, meet with them regularly and will pray with them.

Helpful tips you can suggest for parents in talking with their child about self-injury. (These tips were adapted from the Self-Injury Outreach & Support.)

  1. Choose a good timeto speak with your child. It is best to talk some place that is comfortable for both you and your child. If the other parent is willing, invite them to be in on the conversation.
  2. Be honest about your level of concern.
  3. Be aware of your own emotions. If you are angry wait to have the conversation. Make sure you are calm and collected when you have the conversation.
  4. Start by telling your child why you are concerned and why you think he may be hurting himself.
  5. Focus the conversation on your child’s feelings.
  6. Do not lecture, accuse or threaten your child.
  7. Ask open-ended questions using a supportive and calm tone. Help your child to understand what he or she is going through.
  8. Reassure your child that he/she will not be punished for self-injury.
  9. If your child is receptive to the conversation, ask questions about the self-injury (e.g., how often they self-injure, where the self-injury occurs, etc.)
  10. Be aware your child may not be open to talking about their self-harm. Don’t push or intimidate but wait for professional help before trying to discuss anything else about self-harming.

Encourage the parent to talk to their family doctor or pediatrician. Getting professional help for the child and the parent is very important. A counselor, therapist or psychologist can help the parent take pro-active steps to create a safe environment for their child. They can assist the parent in helping the child learn how to self-regulate.

Other things the parent can do

  • Unplug from everything – TV, phone, computer, Internet, social media for an hour each evening and especially during meal times
  • Create a home where evening meals are eaten together with no distractions
  • If the child must spend long hours in childcare, make sure the caregiver is aware of the issues and is also a loving and kind person that can make the child feel comfortable and safe
  • Take your child out for special outings or dates
  • If at all possible make sure the child spends time with the other parent
  • Model appropriate coping skills

Children need to take power over the one person they can and that is themselves. These children need to feel empowered. They need to have the ability to make choices. There are many ways the church can step up and intervene for this child.

Recently on the Dr. Phil TV show one guest said, “When you cut, you feel this high. It’s like no drug can even compere. You feel calm. You feel at the top of the world.”

Shouldn’t we want that ‘on top of the world’ feeling to come from a high with God and with the Holy Spirit surging through their hearts? We need to teach kids to cry out and reach out toward Christ and say, “Jesus, help me in my unbelief.”

In my research I kept reading over and over that these hurting kids need connections. I believe church family and the Lord’s people can be part of the connections they need.

Won’t you help a kid today and change a life for tomorrow?



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