Talking with Your Child
- My daughter is home for the summer after her freshman year at college and she seems to be acting differently - quieter than usual and spending a lot of time in her room. I noticed a cut on her arm, but when I asked her about it she said it was an accident and pulled her sleeve down. I am worried that she is hurting herself. How can I bring this up without making her more upset?
This is a great question. There are two things to keep in mind when raising this with her. The first is that if she is injuring herself, it is likely that on some level that she does want you to know. The second is that while you can open the door to communication about it she will need to walk through if exchange is going to happen.
In raising the topic, I would recommend what Dr. Barent Walsh calls "respectful curiosity" by saying something like, "I noticed that you have a cut on your arm and that you seemed a little upset that I mentioned it. While I can't know that this is what is happening for you, I know that cutting oneself to relieve stress is something people do sometimes. If this is what you are doing I want you to know that I really want to be here for you and for you to know that you can tell me anything. If you don't feel like you can talk to me, I can help you find someone to talk to. I really hope you will talk to someone." While these words might not be something you would say to your daughter, the intent is what is important here and letting her know that you can hear anything she has to tell you, without shock, anger, or overwhelming sadness (so that she feels like she needs to protect you) is key.
If you see more signs of self-injury, you can continue to gently remind her that you are open to talking or to helping her find someone to confide in. Ultimately, however, she will have to exercise her own agency to both respond to your invitation and to develop other ways of coping so your job is to stay available. You can learn more about self-injury at www.selfinjury.com or www.crpsib.com.
Answer courtesy of Janis Whitlock, Director, Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behaviors, Cornell University