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DD(12) self harming <may be triggering>(8 Posts)
I've name-changed as this is sensitive and I don't want to take the (admittedly slim) risk of anyone putting two and two together from other threads to identify DD.
My 12 year old DD confided to a friend a few weeks ago that she had been self-harming using a compass. Luckily she chose a good friend to tell, as the friend took her to a teacher to discuss it and the safeguarding department of school informed me.
I took her to the doctor the next day. She has been referred to the local CAHMS. I haven't heard from them yet.
I've been into school and some things have been put in place for her. She will attend a health and wellbeing group at school and she has a pass to go to the SEN space in school if she is feeling overwhelmed. The safeguarding lead and the doctor gave her some helpline numbers and I have helped her put them into her phone and told her that it is fine for her to phone them if she needs to talk to someone but doesn't feel comfortable confiding in me.
I have been approaching by being calm and loving and open as much as I can, offering for her to tell me how she is feeling and not being judgemental. I helped apply antiseptic cream to where she had scratched herself (all over her tummy, her chest, her lower legs, her arms) without flinching or freaking out.
I asked the doctor about leaving her alone in her room and the doctor said that I still need to allow her to have that space and I can't be always checking on her! I am giving her that space, and though I have tried to remove anything in her room that's obvious, I guess she could always find something sharp if she really wants to. There are times that she is in the house alone when I am at work, which is worrying too.
Her dad and I are divorced. She spends most time with me but spends weekends and an evening a week with him.
The previous self harm has been while I've been in the house and she's been in her room, but I saw some fresh scratches on her arm today. At first she denied they were new scratches, but then irritatedly told me that she'd "had a moment". I managed to ascertain that this time she'd made the scratches on her arm with a knife when she was at an event at the house of one of her dad's friends (boring party, no other kids there, she squirrelled away a knife from one of the drawers and hid herself away to scratch herself). I've asked her whether she knows what sparked off her wanting to do it. She completely shut down and said she didn't want to talk about it.
I've backed off, which I'm finding scary, but I don't want to mither her about this and make her feel pressurised and go more into herself. At the same time, if she doesn't talk to me about what is wrong I don't know how to help her. She and I have a close, loving relationship, but she has never found talking about difficult feelings easy - though I have always done my best to be open and calm and non-judgmental when we do talk about difficult things.
What can I do to help her? What can I do better?
This is tough, OP –I'm in a hurry but couldn't read and run, so apologies for the quick reply! I'm so sorry you and your daughter are up against this.
I used to work on a self-harm helpline and (as I'm sure you already know) for most people who do it, it's a way of coping with big emotions.
So you can start, as you've already brilliantly done, by telling her that it's ok to feel the way she's feeling, and you'd like to find some other ways to help her get through the emotions when they hit. Maybe share a time in your life when you've also felt overwhelmed by an emotion and didn't know how to handle it. And then explain that even if she doesn't want to talk about the root cause of it all now (she may not even know what it is), you'd like to understand more about what it's like for her, and then find a way to help her in those moments that don't cause lasting damage.
Clenching an ice cube in your hand or keeping an elastic band on your wrist to snap, for example, releases the same adrenaline rush without the lasting scars. Hopefully the doctor will have offered some of these ideas already, but it's good for you both to problem-solve this together, too, rather than it coming from a medical professional.
Start with helping her to redirect the energy - the root cause of things can come out more easily once she knows you 'get it' and that there's no judgement or shame attached.
And HUGE hugs to you - this must be really upsetting and you're handing it brilliantly.
I'm sorry OP, I have no advice apart from to me it sounds as though you are doing everything you can, you have put in place all the support you can and you are there for her.
It's a difficult feeling to think that she might just not feel able to talk to you right now - she has friends she can open up to, and who will do the right thing, so I would say just wait for her to come to you.
I have no direct experience but having a DD9 it is something that is increasingly on my mind - looking at the scenario for young girls today, self-harm is something about a quarter of us parents will have to learn to cope with.
All I do know is that my parents would have had to put me on the rack before I opened up to them, and my DD is similar - clams up rather than opens up, to me anyway. Something I am trying to address!
Thanks so much for your kind replies.
The safeguarding lead told DD about the elastic band thing and I know she has used it as a strategy. I've given her a book on anxiety that you can write/draw in that she can keep private and use if she wants to.
I have an anxiety based MH condition which DD is aware of. It has more or less been under control over the last few years (since I divorced her dad 6 years ago things have improved considerably). I do wonder if maybe she's worried that she'll upset me, even though I have been calm and non judgemental with her about this and other issues that have come up in parenting.
She is dealing with big emotions and questions - adolescence probably doesn't help but there's stuff around her sexuality and not fitting in, even though she has a good, accepting group of friends at school.
Her father has narcissistic traits in my (amateur psychological) opinion. He can be moody and let's say he's very sure of his own worldview. One of the things she said to the safeguarding lead she was finding problematic is a feeling that he's always telling her what she should be thinking or should be interested in . It's difficult because they do love one another very much. She's always idolised her father in the past, but I wonder whether the scales are falling off her eyes a bit.
Another issue with all of this is how I deal with her Dad. We have differing views about what is happening for her (he thinks it is all to do with the fact that she's gay). I feel it is more nuanced, but don't want to argue with him and cause more problems. It's very upsetting for DD when he and I have disagreements and I've spent the last few years trying to keep the peace.
That's by the by though. It's horrible knowing that when DD is in her room there is a chance she may be hurting herself - and not knowing how to help her.
The confusing thing is DD is quite an upbeat kid and a bit of a joker. She doesn't present as a child with the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Oh, little one...
It does sound like she might be (consciously or not) trying to protect you - especially since she's an upbeat, funny kid. I used to try and take the edge off things for my mum (who had severe MH issues) by making everything funny and light.
Things like this will take time and it'll benefit everyone if you focus on one thing at a time.
Maybe ask yourself: what's the one thing that would make the biggest difference right now? And then just focus on that.
Whether it's making sure she has an alternative to cutting (that she's chosen - the elastic band is one option, but it won't suit everyone – others draw red lines on their skin, others wash their forearms repeatedly, cold showers, playing a clapping game, hard, with a friend or family member...) or making sure she's not home alone much, take one step at a time.
Who's in YOUR corner throughout all this, OP? Do you have friends and family you can lean on?
I've confided in a couple of friends and my DP (who doesn't live with us) so I have some support for me.
I just want to make sure I'm doing my best to be a good enough support for her, the poor kid . I've always told her that it isn't her job to worry about me and I've always tried to be as strong and consistent as I can for her, but I guess she might subconsciously remember the mess that I was when she was little...
Thank you so much for your replies, they've given me some food for thought
What about some sort of sport or mindfulness or physical activity to help with stressful times?
It might sound a bit trite, but physical exercise can really help and also be a sort of outlet for pain/stress too IYSWIM...