Other mental health conditions
Attention Deficit Disorder
When someone has problems concentrating and staying focused on tasks, they may have an attention deficit disorder. Often the condition starts in early childhood. They may be easily distracted, excessively active, or go off into daydreams more than others.
Children with attention deficit disorders find paying attention in class difficult, leading to conflict with teachers. They may feel like the world is against them because of the conflicts that arise due to their inability to concentrate.
Children with attention deficit disorders may have a lot of energy and become involved in many activities that can be positive.
Eating disorders are a group of illnesses where someone has a distorted view of body image with a preoccupation with eating, food, and weight. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. People with anorexia control the amount of food they eat, while people with bulimia tend to feel out of control where food is concerned.
Self-harm is where a person inflicts pain or injury to their body as a way of coping with difficult feelings and life experiences, such as
- cutting, burning, scalding, banging, scratching one’s own body
- pulling out their own hair
- swallowing poisonous substances or objects
The majority of children who self-harm don’t intend to end their life. Most children who self-harm do so to try and manage overwhelming negative feelings. There is a risk that a person could die as a result of self-harm. There are also risks such as infection, scarring, and other permanent injury.
Research indicates that self-harm occurs in approximately four times as many girls as boys and it is more likely to occur in young people aged between 11-25 years.
There is a common view that self-harm is “just attention seeking”. Many children self-harm in secret, often not telling or showing anyone their injuries. Labelling self-harm as attention seeking will only heighten the child’s sense of shame, guilt, and isolation. It may even intensify the level of self-harm.
You can visit these websites for more information.
- Youth beyond blue
- Raising Children Network
- Headspace - Understanding self harm for teens
- Beyond Blue self harm
Taking care of yourself
It can be disturbing to discover the child in your care is self-harming. You might feel shock, confusion, inadequacy, and even anger. These feelings are normal. Remember there is support for you as well as for the child. Talk to your care team.
What to do if a child is self-harming
- Talk to your care team
- Listening and caring are two of the most important things you can do
- Be patient and willing to listen
- Look beyond the self-harm - for the child it is a way of managing their emotions
- It helps if you can understand that the child may hate their self-harm, even though they might need it
- Show concern for the child’s injuries - show them that their body is worth caring about.
- Offer help in the same way as for an accidental injury
- Help them develop a list of other things to do when feeling stressed, such as exercise, sport, writing, art, music, and poetry, and talking to friends or a therapist
- Be encouraging and supportive, and work collaboratively with therapists
- Make them aware of websites such as Headspace, Youth Beyond Blue and ReachOut.
- Look at ways to reduce stress related to school or study
What not to do if a child is self-harming
- Don’t ignore self-harm and hope it goes away
- Don’t avoid talking about it, this will leave the child feeling even more alone
- Don’t dismiss self-harm as attention seeking or a stage
- Don’t get angry, threaten, lecture, or shame the child
- Don’t use punishments like time-out or removal of possessions and privileges
- Don’t panic or overreact, this can frighten the child
- Stay calm and talk about what to do next
- Don’t show less compassion or concern because the injury is self-inflicted
- Don’t blame the child for your shock or distress
- Don’t take self-harm personally or try to get them to “see things from your perspective” - children have difficulty coping with their own feelings, they may not think about the impact on others
- Don’t try to force them to make pacts or promises to you - this will place them under more pressure and they will feel guilty when they cannot keep their promise
- Don’t make assumptions about why the child is self-harming - let them tell you why they do it