No Harm Done: A Parent’s Journey

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Advice and support for parents or carers of children who self-harm

Making a difference

A personal message from Trevor, a parent

I was so devastated and confused when I found out that my daughter was self-harming. My emotions were all over the place.

I didn’t know why. I had no idea how to help her. I wasn’t sure where to go for professional help. It was all so stressful and overwhelming. As a father, I just wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool and protect her.

Back then, I wasn’t aware that there were many groups and services available that could help her. All I did know was that it was hugely important to let my daughter know she was not alone in this.

We, her family, were all there for her. Together, we would help her get better, support her through the darkest of times and help her to feel safe.

By sharing our family’s experience through the #NoHarmDone project, I hope to be able to support and encourage other parents who may be coping with self-harm.

Dealing with guilt, anger and difficult emotions

Shock. Devastation. Disbelief. Shame. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Guilt.

If you’ve recently discovered that your child is harming themselves, you’re probably experiencing a whole range of challenging emotions. This is not unusual.

It’s common for parents to blame themselves - to feel a sense of failure as a caregiver, that they have done a bad job protecting their child, or that the warning signs should have been noticed earlier.

Yet self-harm is a very common coping mechanism amongst young people. Many turn to it as quickly as other generations might have used drugs or alcohol to manage difficult feelings. Young people can begin to self-harm for many different reasons, most of which will be unrelated to our parenting.

As a parent or carer, you’re in a great position to support your child’s recovery: you know them and the person that they are, so you can play a crucial role in helping them work through tough emotions by listening, caring and showing that you trust them.

As a parent, it’s important to acknowledge your own feelings about the situation - make time to talk to a trusted partner, friend or counsellor. Try not to focus on the past, but instead consider how you can help make things change for the better.

Many parents or carers of young people who use self-harming behaviour grow closer to their children as they support their recovery. It can be an opportunity to build a bridge of trust, to accept your child as they are and to provide support, practical advice and a listening ear when it’s needed most.

Overcoming your worries

Many parents of self-harming children are terrified of saying the wrong thing. Instead, they choose to say nothing at all.

There will be times when it’s best not to share your worries with your child; when your emotions are running high, it can be better to give yourself a bit of space and time to calm down. But don’t stay quiet for long - your child needs you.

Even if you’re concerned about saying the wrong thing, try and speak openly with your child. You may not always get it quite right, but each conversation shows your child that you support them and care.

We are grateful to these young people, who shared their tips with us on how parents and carers should approach a conversation about self-harm:

  • Try not to judge: “My parents didn’t like that I was self-harming, but they also didn’t think that it made me a bad person.”

  • Be honest: “My parents told me they didn’t get it [the self-harm] - and neither did I. Their honesty and questions helped me to open up about my self-harm; we explored it together.”

  • Accept recovery as a process: “I can’t stop. Not right now. If you ask me to, I’ll feel like I’m letting you down. It’s going to take time - I need you to be there for me.”

  • Listen: “My dad said very little. He just listened. It was exactly what I needed.”

  • Talk about other things too: “I’m more than my self-harm. There’s a lot more to me than that. It doesn’t have to be the focus of every conversation we have.”
Supporting yourself

It’s extremely important that you look after yourself and the rest of your family, as well as the child who is self-harming.

There may be a lengthy road ahead to recovery, and if we’re not physically and mentally well ourselves then we’re not in a good position to support those we care about.

Make time for the wellbeing basics: healthy eating, sleeping well, regular exercise and connecting with others.

Practicing regular self-care can make a big difference when it comes to resilience. These important habits can slip incredibly fast when times are stressful and challenging, and as they slip so does the ability to cope.

Try and set aside time to have fun with your children - whether it’s the child who is self-harming or a sibling who could be feeling stressed and vulnerable as a result of the situation. Look for positive distractions and experiences that will bring your family closer together.

Do something just for you. This could be having a bath, going for a walk in nature, having a meal out or simply reading a book with a cuppa. Whatever relaxes you, create time for it: you’ll come back to the situation feeling refreshed and better able to manage and support others.

Five practical ways to support your child

There are steps that you can take to help aid your child’s recovery. While the journey is different for everyone, things that have been proven to commonly help include:

Support your child in accessing professional support: A visit to the GP or talking to someone at school is often the best first step to take. Speak with your child and ask what they are comfortable sharing - and who they feel able to share this with.

Learn more about self-harm: There is a lot of misunderstanding about self-harm, yet it’s much more common that you may realise. The more you understand it, the better you will be able to support your child, yourself and your family.

Identify stressors and triggers: Talk through a typical day or upcoming events with your child: what are they concerned or anxious about? See if you can identify situations together that are worrying them and discuss how best to address and overcome these.

Help your child learn about alternatives: There are many other ways to explore and tackle tough emotions. Work with your child to identify different ways of dealing with things - this could include breathing exercises, music, physical activity, writing or art.

Keep supporting: It’s easy to begin to drift away or for life to become busy again as things seem to get better and scars start to heal. Yet try not to; this early recovery phase is sometimes the hardest part of all and when your support is needed most.

Getting help

Talking with others can be a huge weight off your shoulders. There are experienced and trusted professionals and support groups who can help you and your child during this time.

Here are some recommended services and resources that you may find helpful:

Dedicated parents helpline offers free, confidential advice via the phone, email and webchat: 0808 802 5544 (open Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4pm)

Coping with self-harm: A guide for parents and carers
Produced by the University of Oxford in conjunction with YoungMinds and The Royal College of Psychiatrists

The Royal College of Psychiatrists: Self-harm advice for parents and carers

The parents guide to self-harm: what parents need to know by Jane Smith
Available in paperback or Kindle edition

A short introduction to understanding and supporting children and young people who self-harm by Professor Carol Fitzpatrick
Available in paperback or Kindle edition

Self-harm alternatives: over 130 ideas for use in recovery suggested by young people, collated by Dr Pooky Knightsmith


The #NoHarmDone project has been co-created in partnership with young people and parents and produced by Young Minds, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Charlie Waller Trust.

Thank you to all the young people and parents who generously gave their time and shared their experiences to make ‘No Harm Done’ a reality.


See the other videos and information from the No Harm Done series:



Asking for help (adult)

When it’s time to talk about your mental health.

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Asking for help (young person)

A simple guide for young people to help talk about their feelings.

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Depression booklet

Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

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Guide to depression for parents and carers

This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

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Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)

This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

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Low mood poster

Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

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Aiming high can sometimes come at a cost. This eight page guide looks at ‘unhealthy perfectionism’ – how to spot it and advice on how to develop effective interventions.

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Supporting a child with anxiety

A guide for parents and carers to help understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it.

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Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

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Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

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Supporting a child with an eating problem

A guide for parents and carers to help understand how they can support a child with an eating problem.

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Wellbeing Action Plan (adult)

A simple, resource to help adults support and maintain their wellbeing.

View resource

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