Self Harm

door in garden

In working with adolescents and families for a number of years, I have seen the various looks of a parent – the angry look, the disgusted look, the frustrated look, the look of disdain and disbelief.  By far, the most concerning has been the look of fear and utter helplessness that parents experience when they find out their child is self harming.  With many parents having little experience or information about this, they often react out of fear and protection, as well as relying on stereotypes and less-than-reliable resources to give them direction during this often frightening time.

Self  Harm is a clinical term that covers many different kinds of self injury.  Self Injury can start out as simply as scratching one’s arm or legs.  Some individuals may remove the small eraser at the end of a # 2 pencil, and push the round metal piece together to then be used as a sharp instrument.  Others begin their self injury using the blade from a pencil sharpener.  This can lead to using a razor, a kitchen knife, or an exacto-knife.  Many individuals can find many creative ways to develop, make or use every day objects to self injure.   These everyday objects are hard to eliminate from anyone’s life and make the tool used to self injure regularly accessible and easy to use.

One of the most puzzling looks of a parent often includes the word “WHY?”  For those who have no experience with this, understanding self injury seems impossible.  However, there are some basic concepts that may help you to understand, even if you do NOT agree with the behaviors.  Self injury can be addictive.  When self-injury is repeated it can become addictive.  And many times, I see this lead to self injury developing a life of its’ own.

The most common form of self-injury is cutting or burning oneself.   Other forms of self injury include: hair pulling, face picking, self-hitting, head banging, severe skin scratching, bone breaking, or interfering with wound healing.  Any of these behaviors can become addictive for the individual due to the the emotional release that occurs with the self injury.  The individual’s inability to emotionally regulate then leads to their repetitive pattern of self injury as it becomes a way to self regulate.  The perpetuating cycle is often very difficult to break without professional help.

If you have someone you love who is self harming, or simply want more information, there are a number of reliable and safe resources out there.  Below I have listed two quick links for you to connect to and in future posts, I will talk more about warning signs and ways to handle the initial discovery and what to do next.  Information is key and keeping the communication loving and open is crucial.

And as always, if you need professional help, we are here for you – please contact our Southlake Office at 704-896-7776 or go to our website –

5 Tips to a Happier Relationship with Your Teen

140308-family-with-teensHaving a teenager can be one of the most frustrating aspects of parenting but what are parents to do? We can’t keep them from growing up so that means we have to better our skills. As teenagers, kids start to think (and act) like they know it all but our job as parents is to constantly teach them. If you’re a parent of a teenager, brace yourself because you’re in for one wild ride, and heed the advice in this article to have a happier relationship.

  1. Change your mindset. While your children will always be your babies,they’re not children (in that sense) anymore. They’re growing up and, as parents, we have to recognize that and keep up. Your teen is maturing and becoming independent. Relax, this is exactly what you want them to do.  Realize that your baby isn’t a baby anymore and adjust your parenting accordingly.
  2. Actively listen. This can be difficult, especially if you have more than one child, but it’s very important to actively listen to your teen.  Active listening is giving your teen your undivided attention,not thinking aboutwhat you’re going to say next, and certainly not interrupting them.  You want your teen to be open with you and the best way to have that is to have open communication.
  3. Set a date.  Just because your child is a teenager now, doesn’t mean they don’t need quality time with you.  It can be a move, a sporting event, the mall, anything that lets them know you want to spend time with them.  Even if they don’t appear to want to spend time with you, keep the date!
  4. Address the situation and move on. Teens tend to get into trouble….a lot.  Whether it’s an attitude, sassy comments, disrespect, or something else, it’s important to address issue in an appropriate manner and move on. Don’t engage in heated arguments with your teen about the mistake that was made. (Easier said then done, I know.) However, this just fuels the fire. You can set boundaries in a strong, love and assertive way and then let it go.
  5. Be a parent. It’s very easy to get sucked into being your child’s friend but you must be a parent first. Put boundaries and rules in place and hold firm to them. Even though you’re the parent of a teen, you’re still teaching them to make wise decisions. The truth is teens need a strong rock and this is what they want through this time that is filled with great uncertainty for them.

Congratulations on being the parent of a teen! Have faith in your ability as a parent and know that you’re doing your best. Try to remember what it was like to be that age and how you wanted your parents to act or treat you. You’re doing a fantastic job…even if you don’t think so!

Your Weekly Meditation: Fathers Matter

Fathers matter.

Whether our relationship with our own father was close or distant, the impact a father has in the life of a daughter is undeniable. And when we begin a family of our own, whether we share duties of child-rearing with a partner or shoulder the responsibility of both mother and father alone, our experience with our father goes with us. It serves us well to employ what Marianne Williamson, author of a “Return to Love,” terms “selective remembering” – “a conscious decision to focus on love and let the rest go.”

This week I resolve to: Celebrate what I learned from my own father, employing the timeless wisdom of “selective remembering” to pass along love and leave the rest behind.

Children and Divorce: Issues with Anxiety

As a family moves through a divorce transition, the reality is that many problems and concerns may arise.  Their parents’ divorce or separation can be very difficult for a child, as well as for the entire family.  Issues with children may manifest themselves in different ways, depending on the child and the situation.  One common difficulty that may present itself for children is anxiety.

Anxiety in Children: What Does it Look Like?

Anxiety in children may look different than it does in adults.  Children may have trouble expressing how they are feeling or even be confused about what’s going on inside them.  Anxiety may show up as physical symptoms or illness, such as headaches, stomach aches, or repetitive behaviors like hair-pulling.  Children who have issues with anxiety may lose interest in taking part in activities they once enjoyed, or feel unable to try something new or different.  They may find it difficult to talk about what’s going on with their parents or other family members.

Ways to Work Through Anxious Feelings

In experiences like these, parents may feel overwhelmed and unsure of how they can best help their child through the transition of divorce or separation, especially when issues with anxiety arise. Meeting with a child and family therapist can be very beneficial, and by working together, the therapist, the parents, and the child can develop a therapeutic plan that aims to help the child in a developmentally-appropriate and kid-friendly way.  A therapeutic plan could incorporate different types of therapy, including play therapy techniques, peer-group sessions, or some traditional talk-therapy, depending on the child’s age and comfort level.  Activities can be geared to specifically deal with anxiety issues, in a way that is comfortable and supportive to the child.  By meeting with a child and family therapist, both the parents and the child will gain skills and insight on how to best deal with current issues, and will be able to use those skills when dealing with problems in the future.

A compliment to child and family therapy is joining a peer-support group for children.  Groups like these explore age-appropriate activities designed to increase positive coping skills in a fun and encouraging environment.  It’s a great way for a child to learn that he is not alone in what he is going through, while also gaining knowledge of child-friendly methods and techniques that he can integrate into different aspects of his life.  A sense of camaraderie and accomplishment is encouraged, and children work through their issues in their own way, while making friends and having fun.

A Parent and Child Activity: Deep Breathing

A quick activity that can be helpful to children when they’re feeling anxious (and adults too!) is a deep breathing exercise.  This is a perfect activity for parents and children to do together, as it is one that holds value for everyone.  First, take a deep breath, and hold it for a brief second.  Slowly release the air by blowing the breath out, like you are blowing up a balloon.  Focus on your breathing as you do this, and repeat a few times.  Begin to pay attention to the sound of your breathing and how the air feels when you are inhaling and exhaling.  By putting your focus on your breathing, the anxious thoughts and feelings begin to fall away and your body responds in a calming manner.  The great thing about an activity like this is that it’s easy, requires little practice, and can be done anywhere!  It’s a wonderful tool for children to utilize when they are feeling nervous or scared, and one that even adults will see benefits from engaging in.

Carina Wise, MFTA is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with children and families, many of whom are traveling through a divorce transition.  To learn more, contact Carina at Southlake Counseling (704) 896-7776