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Self-harm in children and young people - information and advice for parents and carers

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Spotting the signs of self-harm in children and young people

MindEd- for families is a resourceful website for parents and carers who are looking for advice on a range of child related issues. They have valuable information and materials on self-harm, that cover how to spot the physical signs and behaviours, as well as the emotional signs, the sort of things that causes your child to self-harm, and what to do if you discover your child self-harms, all within their 'Risky behaviour’ section. 

You can seek advice on the NHS Choices web page titled 'Self-harm’, although this is aimed more at the person self-harming, it does have useful information about the types of self-harm, the signs to look out for, and why people self harm.

Further guidance about why people self-harm can be found through Harmless UK, which are a voluntary organisation for those who self-harm, their friends and family. 

Self-harm is more common amongst teenagers, but signs of self-harm are also occurring in primary school-aged children. You may notice signs that they are:

  • Being withdrawn, anxious or depressed
  • Not wanting to wear clothes with short sleeves
  • Unexplained cuts, scratches and bruises, and hair pulling.

A child or young person may self-harm to soothe deep sadness or express overwhelming emotions that they can’t communicate. They might do it if they are being bullied or feel helpless.

A child or young person may self-harm to soothe deep sadness or express overwhelming emotions that they can’t communicate. They might do it if they are being bullied or feel helpless. Being aware of the different types of self-harm can help understand the reason why a child/young person may be self-harming and how best to support them through it.

The different types of self-harm include: 

Self-harming to manage their feelings - They self-harm because they find it difficult to put their feelings into words, and the physical pain of it distracts them when they are in emotional pain and helps them release tension. 

Self-harming to communicate – They self-harm to try and show others how they feel. This should not be misunderstood as attention seeking, but that they are in need of support.

Self-harming to have control – They are self-harming as a way to help them stay in control of their day to day life.

Self-harming to punish themselves – They self-harm because of feelings or behaviours they think are their fault. To punish themselves if they are feeling angry towards someone but they are unable to tell the person how they feel. Or when they feel  hate towards themselves - this is a common reason why someone might self-harm. 

Self-harm and suicide – People who self-harm don’t usually want to die. They may be self-harming to help deal with life, rather than a way of trying to end it. But self-harm can increase their risk of having suicidal thoughts or of suicide by accidentally ending their life. Therefore self-harm should be taken very seriously and someone who self-harms should be helped to find support.

How should I talk to my child/young person about their feelings?

The Young Minds Charity has this Parent Lounge video which talks about how you should respond if you find out your child/young person is self-harming:

As mentioned in the video this is their Take20 tips. To be referred to your local children's mental health services either make an appointment to see your GP or you can contact the Emotional Wellbeing Hub or Point1 Service (depending where you live in Suffolk).

The NHS Choices website has an advice page on how to start a conversation with your child tiled ‘Talking to children about their feelings’ 

MindEd-for families has a resourceful section on their website titled ‘Talking to My Child’ (external link to their website) to help you find ways to communicate to children and teenagers when they might need it.

Resources to help children/young people to explore their emotions

You can refer your child to information on the Childline website to help them find ways to cope with self-harm. 

If you have a teenager, they can find local advice and support about self-harm from TheSource - for young people in Suffolk website.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists website has a list of recommended 'mental health books for adults, children and teenagers' which address a whole range of health and wellbeing topics.

Suffolk Libraries has a list of self-help books suitable for young people and parent/carers to request at their local library. Visit  

Parents/carers can also find various book recommendations to support your child with all sorts of issues from the Suffolk Parent Hub 

Take a look at our list of 'Videos and creative things to help support children's mental health'.

I think my child is self-harming, what should I do?

Please be aware that self-harm is ‘not attention seeking’.

If your child is self-harming don’t ignore it. Make an appointment at your GP surgery for advice and support. You can ask to have a longer appointment if you feel that would help. 

Alternatively, you can make a referral or get advice about wellbeing and mental health support services from the Suffolk Children & Young People's Emotional Wellbeing Hub

Does your child need urgent help?

If it's not a life threatening emergency call NHS 111 and they will talk you through what happens next.

Where can I find useful resources?

The following step by step guide covers all the vital aspects about self-harm and when to seek help - 'Coping with self-harm - a guide for parents and carers’.

The YoungMinds Charity also have a good Self-harm booklet, with information about what causes people to self-harm and how to get help, which is aimed at the individual or the person who knows someone who might be self-harming - 'Your guide to Self-Harm and getting the help you need'.

If you are a professional, teacher or a member of staff at a school and you don't know how you can support a young person who is self-harming then this useful guide 'No Harm Done' by Young Minds Charity helps with how to recognise and respond to Self-harm. 

Where can I find a list of local support groups and organisations who can help?

Here is a list of local support services and organisations for self-harm (you can filter the list for what you need).

Where can I find a useful health and wellbeing App?

If you are looking for helpful phone apps that can provide some in-hand support to a young person struggling with emotional issues, please see our list of the best emotional wellbeing apps reviewed by young people.

Who can I speak to for advice?

If you are concerned about the mental health of a child or young person aged 0-25, please contact the Suffolk Children and Young People's Emotional Wellbeing Hub to get advice or make a referral. 

Other services you can contact for support:

YoungMinds Parent Helpline: 0808 802 5544  Helpline available Monday-Friday, from 9.30am to 4pm.

The YoungMinds helpline have trained advisers who offer friendly and confidential advice to help answer your questions.

Papyrus HopeLine UK Helpline0800 068 41 41 SMS: 07786 209697  Helpline available Monday-Friday, from 10am-10pm, weekends: 2pm-10pm & bank holidays: 2pm-5pm

HOPELineUK is a specialist telephone service staffed by trained professionals who give non-judgemental support, practical advice and information to children, teenagers and young people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling, and anyone who is concerned about a young person.

Suffolk School Nursing - ChatHealth Text Service

Text 07507 333356 for confidential health advice from the school nurse (available Mon-Fri 9.30am to 4.30pm).


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