Hi, I'm Dr. Kevin Skinner. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and I want to thank you for taking time to ask you a question here at Parent Guidance.
Your question is that you caught your 11-year-old self harming and you don't know what to do.
It's an important question because it's one that we're getting more and more frequently, not only as therapists, but it's a question of what's going on? Why is this happening? And, as parents, it might be picking, it might be cutting, it might be scratching, it might be picking, picking, picking. Whatever it is that they're doing, the research suggests that it is the inability to cope with emotions. You could call anxiety, it could be situational, some things occurred in their life, being bullied. Maybe something that they've done that they feel guilty or ashamed about. There's a lot of possible reasons why they would do some self harm.
The question that we as parents want to figure out is what's driving that, what's making them, what we would say, that kind of anxious? Because we now know that a lot of it is anxiousness. We don't know what to do with these emotions and when you don't know what to do with your emotions, it's highly probable that you're going to seek something for soothing and that's actually what the researchers have found with self-harm is that individuals are trying to soothe the anxiousness, the internal emotions that they're feeling and you and the research also has found that it provides a temporary relief from those difficult emotions.
Then, if that's the case, the solution would be to help our children regulate difficult emotions. Now, I can tell you from personal experience, seeing, having children who have anxiety, and have had anxiety, is helping them regulate those emotions, requires us to have a relationship. For them to be able to trust their Dad, for them to be able to know that he has their best interest in mind. So then, when I see the anxiety, I might go put my head up to their head, which I often will do and sometimes I'll just hum.
And and really what I'm trying to do, there is help them to regulate.
And then we're breathing and so it's not uncommon for me to do a breathing exercise where we'll hum and then we'll breathe together because I'm trying to help them learn how to regulate. Other things that have been effective, mindfulness meditation. So, Yoga for some people. These are research-based ways to regulate the mind and the body. So, I'm going to suggest to you that you might try those strategies of mindfulness breathing exercise, a really simple one which would be a four to six count in, holding it for a second, and then coming out hard for a six to eight count and actually doing that with your child. Helping them learn to listen to their body in the internal anxiety and teaching them to pay attention to that anxiety and where they feel it in their body, and then giving it a language.
These are all suggestions that could be helpful in helping your child confront difficult emotions. Now, here at Parent Guidance, we have courses that help parents and adolescents alike, understand the role of emotional regulation because it's such an important part of the healing process. So, I would encourage you to go look through some of the courses on anxiety, depression to learn some strategies that you can then share with your child. Well, thank you for taking time to ask your important question. More important, I want to say this. We don't know the root, but there's going to be a root cause. As a parent we want to get our child to open up and then some of the solutions regulate emotions, mindfulness breathing, yoga, guided meditations are some of the strategies that could be helpful. If you find that your child needs more support than this, don't be afraid because self-harm is is something to take serious. And, but, it's going to be finally important that they have that relationship with you. As much as possible, try to develop a connection where they'll trust your ideas and listen to you and do these some of these things with them. I think you'll be very helpful.
All right. Thank you for taking time to ask your question here at Parent Guidance. May you and your 11-year-old be blessed.