Understanding self harming as foster parents

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As foster parents, you may come across things in your fostering journey that you’ve never experienced before. Self-harming is something that many children may choose to do, for a number of reasons and unfortunately, there are many way to do it. As foster parents, it can be upsetting to learn that your foster children may be deliberately hurting themselves and naturally, you may feel helpless in knowing where to start to try and tackle it.

In this article, we’re going to give you a better understanding of why it might be happening and more importantly, to pick up on signs and help and support your children. The same goes for you, you need support to deal with this too.

Sad woman hug her knee,nobody - foster parents trying to cope

How foster parents can spot the signs

Self-harming, naturally leads to scars and marks, however, prevention or being able to know when your child is hurting themselves is quite difficult. Most self-harming isn’t done for attention therefore, if you’re children are self-harming, they are more than likely going to cover up any evidence of it. As difficult as it may be, below are some signs to be aware of:

  • Marks on their body they can’t explain
  • Covering their body parts in circumstances where it’s not normal to do so.
  • Avoiding certain activities like swimming or avoiding P.E at school
  • Being withdrawn from family and friends
  • Consistent low mood
  • Sudden lack of interest in things
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Lack of concentration

The above points are just some that foster parents should look out for. These are not guaranteed and many self-harmers may experience other things. People can continue living a normal life whilst using self-harming as a coping mechanism so it may not always be obvious.

People sitting on a sofa

Why does self-harming happen?

Self harm can occur for a number of reasons and can differ from person to person. Your children may use self-harming as a release and this can be down to a number of things like:

  • Managing emotions
  • Distracting themselves from emotional pain
  • Expressing themselves
  • Regaining control
  • Punishing themselves for negative thoughts or experiences
  • Blaming themselves for certain things

There are no reasons that are set in stone as to why self-harming occurs. As foster parents, the best thing you can do is support them and talk to them. Self-harming can easily become a habit, so even when a child seems happy, they may still be harming themselves. Step in and show them that there are other ways to express themselves.

sad woman hug her knee and cry feeling so bad,loneliness,sadness,nobody here.

How to help

If you think your foster child is self-harming, you may not know how to approach them. This combined with your own feelings can be very overwhelming. Tell them you are there for them and offer the kind of help and support they will appreciate. Don’t try and control their behaviour or interrogate them. This will only make them feel worse. Firstly, always offer a shoulder to cry on and try and understanding the reasoning behind why it’s happening. Through this, you can then put a plan in place. As hard as it may be, your role as foster parents should still consist on maintaining rules and disciplines to show them that what they are doing isn’t okay and is dangerous.

If you are struggling, please seek professional help and speak to your independent fostering agency. This will help both yourself and your children. It can be a very upsetting and traumatic time but you are not alone and neither is your child.

Visit Young Minds and Child line for more advice and support.