Finding out that your child is cutting or causing some other kind of self-harm to themselves is a traumatic and difficult experience for any parent. But foster parents face the difficulty of maybe not being as close to their foster child as birth parents are. Which means we often find ourselves with the added stress of not truly knowing what to do. But by following a few of these simple steps- you'll make the transition to a healthier life easier on both of you.
Do not get mad: Whatever you do, I cannot stress this enough, do not get mad! If your child feels the need to hurt themselves, they are most likely facing a lot of ridicule in school or from some other outward source. So when you discover that your child has hurt themselves, do not get mad at them about it. Keep your calm. Right now, what they need more than anything else is love. Hate is only going to fuel their inner self-doubt that is making them be cruel to themselves.
Talk your Social Worker: Self-harm should not go unspoken of. Talk to your social worker, case worker, any therapists in the child's life, and the school counselor. All of these people can not only help your child- but help you. It's important to bring awareness to the subject. Do not simply push it under the rug. But also ask them to keep this private- and let the child come to them when they are ready. OR let your child know you need to let their case worker know. Keep the trust flowing, by keeping your child informed on what you are doing.
Talk to them about it: Ask meaningful questions. "When did you begin cutting?", "Why did you start?", "Why are you still self-mutilating?". These questions open up the opportunity to discuss issues your child may be facing in your home, with their birth family, or at school.
Listen to what they have to say: DO NOT interrupt them. Do not give advice. For the time being, simply listen to what they have to say. Let them know you understand and you care- and that you're going to help them get through this. But make sure your mouth is closed when theirs is open. And your ears and heart are ready to digest everything they have to say.
Offer your support and love: Let them know that you will both get through this struggle TOGETHER. This is not something they need to deal with alone. Be as understanding as possible. Let them know you love them, that you're worried about them, and that you know they're worth more than the actions they're doing right now.
Ask to take their 'tools': If your child comes to you with this issue- then they're asking for help. If you find out about it on your own, they may not be as willing to accept your help. But nevertheless you need to make an effort to take away their 'tools'. If your child is cutting, take away their razor. This can be applied to all kinds of self-mutilation. BUT prior to taking away the tools- ask if you can. Explain that you are worried and you want to help them, but the first step to healing is to take away the weapon. If they refuse to let you take it- discuss this with your social worker. Right now, causing more conflict is likely to cause your child to continue hurting themselves. So rather than causing an argument- have your case worker deal with this issue for you.
Offer up alternative ways of dealing with hurt: If your child is hurting themselves physically, it's a sign that they are hurting mentally- and they need to learn better ways of dealing with sadness, anger, and discontentment. Try offering these alternative methods to your child, to slowly create better habits.
- Color with red pen or marker: If your child cuts, take away their razor and give them a red pen or marker. Tell them every time they think of cutting, to 'cut themselves' with these markers. They may not cause physical pain, but they give the illusion of blood. They're a good transitioning tool, to quitting cutting entirely- by replacing it with something similar. As time goes on, take away the red pen or marker when they are ready.
- Paint angrily: Art is so healing. I promise! Let your child express themselves through painting or drawing or sculpting. Allow them to use curse words and make things that are angry or sad. Although you may not approve of their images- you're enlightening them to a better way of dealing with bad emotions- by putting their energy into something creative.
- Write notes back and forth: Create a 'talk through it diary', where your child can write to you at any time they need to talk about ANYTHING. Tell them no judgment comes from the diary. You'll give advice only when they ask for it. But writing will give your child a way to work through emotions by figuring them out through vocalizing them.
Attend therapy and support groups: There are many free support groups for people dealing with self-mutilation. Make a point to attend these WITH your child. Go together. And go in with an open mind. It's a beautiful way to show your child they are not alone in their struggle- and to promote a healthy discussion from them.
Offer to always listen: No matter what, let your child know you are ALWAYS there and you ALWAYS will be. When they need someone to talk to, to cry on, or to figure things out with- you are there and ready with an open heart and mind.