Here's to strong women...may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.
June 14, 2022

Self Harm: What It Is, Why It Happens & How to Respond // with Cai Graham


Self-Harm and kids. What parent isn’t struck with anxiety when they think of their child contemplating self harm?  What leads to self-harm becoming an option?

(Warning: this episode discusses self-harm from an educational perspective. There are no personal stories or graphic experiences, but we do discuss what self-harm can look like.  For some, this might be difficult or you may choose not to listen to this around young children.  I encourage everyone to assess their situations, take care of themselves, and if you need additional resources, see the links to NAMI and the Crisis Textline below.)

In Ep. 40, Cai Graham unpacks all of this with host Carmelita (Cat) Tiu in a frank discussion about the origins of self-harm and how we can respond.

Some highlights:

  • What self-harm is & isn’t
  • The roots of tween & teen self-harm
  • The 3 reasons kids say they self-harm
  • The first thing to do when you discover your child is self harming
  • What NOT to do when you find out about self-harm

Guest Bio:

Cai Graham is a Parenting & Teen Mentor, Podcaster, International Speaker and Amazon #1 bestselling author of The Teen Toolbox™️. Cai has blended nearly three decades of motherhood with her background as a Master Practitioner in: NLP, Hypnotherapy and Coaching, together with her experience as a ChildLine counsellor to create her TEEN Toolbox™️ Series  which provides parents and teenagers with the tools to successfully navigate this vital (and sometimes rocky) stages of adolescence.

To learn more about Cai Graham:


In this episode – references and additional resources:


Know Them, Be Them, Raise Them

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Transcript
Cai Graham:

this is more of a path that you're going to have to walk together with your child so that between you, they can conquer whatever it is. They need to conquer knowing full well that you are by their side to support them.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Hello, all I'm Carmelita too. And welcome to know them. Be them, raise them a show to help busy, mindful growth oriented moms stay informed and inspired as they navigate their daughter's tween and teen years. Tune in each week to hear from experts, authors, moms who've been there and here a curated selection of articles read with the author's permission. Of course. If you like what you hear or you find something helpful in the podcast, hit, subscribe or follow. tell your friends and leave a review on apple podcasts or Spotify. I would so appreciate it. Before I head into today's episode, I do want to mention that I'll be talking about self harm. From an educational perspective. There are no personal stories or graphic experiences. But we do discuss what it is, why it happens and so on. For some, this might be difficult or you may choose not to listen to this around young children. I encourage everyone to assess their situations, take care of yourselves. And if you need additional resources, head to naimi.org, the national Alliance on mental illness. That's N a M i.org. Or check out the crisis text line@crisistextline.org. You can also check the show notes for these links. So I don't think I'm alone when I say that self harm is the kind of topic that you know exists, but you hope you never have to deal with directly as a parent. It's frightening to think about your tween or teen hurting themselves on purpose. For a long time. I buried my head in the sand, hoping that I could avoid it. But through friends and family, as our kids have moved from toddlers to big kids. Into their tweens and teens. I've come to realize it's much more common than I initially thought. And it seems to lurk near the surface of our realities more often than we think. My guest today, Cai gram. Is here to shed some light on this topic. Cai is a parenting teen and mentor, a podcaster, international speaker and Amazon number one, best-selling author of the Teen toolbox. She's a mom of two fantastic young adults in their late twenties. So she's been deep in the parenting trenches. Kai blends, nearly three decades of motherhood. With her background as a master practitioner in NLP hypnotherapy and coaching together with her experience as a Childline counselor. To create her teen toolbox series, which provides parents and teenagers with the tools to successfully navigate the vital and sometimes Rocky stages of adolescence. It's her mission to help parents to support their children so that together we can build a mentally healthier and happier generation of young people. Here's our conversation. Cai. I'm so excited to have you share your voice and expertise. I really Appreciate you being here.

Cai Graham:

so appreciate you giving me this opportunity. So thank you. And um, if we can help the listeners just get a handle, um, on this topic, then that's important. I think everyone wins. Okay.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Diving right in, self-harm, and having tweens and teens that may be considering it, or in this space, it feels so scary to me as a parent. you know I've been there on the receiving side of messages about contemplation of that. And I honestly struggle and I think a lot of parents First of all there. I have no clue what to do when they hear about it or discover it. So can you shed some light on what self-harm really is and, and maybe starting with the origins and then we'll go from there.

Cai Graham:

Let's let's do that First of all. I want to validate. Parents' feelings because it's a scary topic and it's a scary thing to even have to think about when you know that your baby is struggling because it's our job, isn't it, to look after them, it's our job to protect them. And if, if we sort of suddenly hear that there's a possibility of self-harm or that it's still going on you know, with your child, it's. It's confusing. UN the guilt sort of hits us, but also there's a massive amount of fear. And I think a lot of the reason is because for many of us, we come from parenting from experience and we come from parents and well, you know, ask me about sort of English or math homework. And I'll be able to sort of help you out a bit there, but when it comes to self-harm, many of us haven't walked that path. Many of us don't end it because I know in my day, whether or not it was going on or not, well, the tide weed and spoke about it. And spoke about mental health. So self harm, certainly I would, I would hesitate to say that never happened in our day. But it was never spoken about, so we didn't know about it. So therefore, how can we pull on our own personal resources and we've got no experience of it. So hence the fear. So I think we need to just say that's natural. Don't start beating yourself up if you know, if you are all you can feel is negativity and all you can feel is sort of fair. What I would say. It's like flip this. Totally. If you hear that your child is contemplating or is self-harming. There's a massive positive here is that you are now let into their world a little bit more. And now you can, you have the opportunity to support them. Because if you didn't know about it, you wouldn't be able to support them. But now you do know about it. Then there are things that you can do. So that that's the sort of validation about what's going on as far as the parents are concerned. Um, let's start off. I worked with UK largest, sort of child counseling service for a very long time. And their definition for self-harm is hurting yourself or damaging yourself on purpose. Right. Self-harm could be cutting. Or bruising or hitting oneself or burning oneself. Um, there are other schools who thought, because if we go back to the sort of definition of hurting yourself intentionally in some way, it could be eating disorders because. Hurting our body by showing food, it could be drugs. It could be addictions, it could be alcohol, it could be smoking. It depends what sort of school of thought you're thinking. It could be intentional quite bad risk taking. basically when your child is behaving in a way that is detrimental to their wellbeing, I think. So let's think about that. Anyone that is self-harming is hurting themselves to make themselves feel better, that that doesn't even make sense, does it, but that's what's happening. And so really, when I speak to kids and I'm going, you know, what's motivating this? They are just trying to put the brakes on. They're just trying to stop the chaos in their head. There is so much emotional turmoil going on. It's a bit like a runaway train that they can't stop. They can't stop this bleak, dark feeling. And yet by hurting themselves. Instant physical pain that suddenly takes over and that the emotional pain stops for a minute because suddenly there's that physical. And that is so much more instant that it just gets rid of the chaos in the head for that short period of time. And that's sort of. Why they're doing it in a nutshell. I mean, please appreciate that it's like peeling back the layers of the onion. It is different for every person why they're doing it. Some kids don't even know why they're doing it, but most of the time it's trying to just please can it just stop? Does that make sense?

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

What struck me as you were talking was I've heard, mindset coaches talk about when you find yourself in a negative head space, you have to do something to kind of short circuit where your mind is going. And of course there are healthy alternatives that adults are encouraged to use, like taking a walk or exercising or doing something else. Now that you've talk about this, it's the same desire. It's the same outcome that they want of stopping those negative feelings. And I hadn't tied those two together that this is a way for kids to feel like they're coping. Um,

Cai Graham:

it is. Well, that's the thing. It's a coping strategy. And when you actually go onto or websites on child forums and, Kids or so saying I'm really struggling. I'm having a really hard time. I can't deal with this. The stresses are too much and the answer is, well, what are you doing about it? Well, some people are writing journals. Some people go for walks. Some people are self-harming well, hang on a minute. As an eight year old, let's say, or even an 18 year old, well I've tried journaling and that didn't work. And I've tried walking that doesn't work. I'll give self-harm ago. No no no no. And this is why when I said there is a positive for parents if they find out that their child is self-harming, is that they can go hang on a minute. You're trying to interrupt one cycle. But with, uh, in air quotes solution, that actually is also hurting you. So let's see if we can do something differently. In NLP we call is a pattern interrupt. So they are interrupting one pattern, one cycle, trying to stop it, stop the pain, but it's still misinformed and it is not the solution. It's not the answer, but it's one way that some kids find, it just stops all the other rubbish,

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Hmm.

Cai Graham:

really is ironic and hardest.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Yeah, what I love about this perspective on self harm, is it encourages I would think parents like myself to be more compassionate and empathetic as opposed to angry. Which I imagine is a common response, like how could you want to do that? It makes no sense,

Cai Graham:

So many parents that just say, well, I've just told them to stop for goodness sake. I've ordered them. And the thing is, is the child's not like, oh, thanks dad. Yeah. I never thought about that. I mean, kids want this to stop, but what we need to do is we need to come as you rightly say, we need to come from a place of compassion and we need to understand what's going on. We probably don't understand terribly well because we haven't been through that sort of, that cycle or that experience personally. So we need to be able to understand what is going on in your child's mind. And ultimatums will not get you what you're looking for. So it's a matter of working out. How you can best support your child and working out the why's. Now why they're doing this? There was a survey and basically kids were asked, what are the top three reasons for self-harming? The first one was low self-esteem, which covers a multitude of issues. Um, the second one they said was because they were being. And the third one was because they said they had depression. Now I just like to sort of do a, a sort of caveat here, depression. This was the, the, the kids labeling it. What we have to remember, because I have heard from so many young people, they say, I've got depression, I'm depressed. I've got depression. I go, right. Okay. Have you been diagnosed and they go, oh no, no, no, I haven't been diagnosed, but I just know. And the thing is, I think what our kids need to understand is that they might not have depression. They might've just had a really bad day or a really bad week or it's exam season. And they're having a really rubbish month, you know? Cause I think the thing as soon as, as soon as we hear labels, we start listening to. So I th I think if a child still comes up to me and sort of goes I'm depressed and that from, you know, this is happening because I have to call them out on it and go, well, maybe this isn't quite right, but let's dig deeper and see why you're feeling so rubbish at the minute. So it's just trying to understand what is going on in your child's world and what. sort of triggering their need for this coping strategy, most of the point, once we sort of start understanding how do we start understanding is quite important. And the fastest way to do is to start talking with your child is opening up that dialogue. And, the you really ought to stop with this. Don't you realize it's just not the solution and it doesn't help. It's more to the point let's start asking questions a different way and making fewer ultimatums and go. I know about this now I'm so glad I found out whether or not your child opened up to you or you found out from a different source. And it's basically what you need from me? How, how do I support you? How do I help you deal with this? Cause self harm is a lot about control. So much stuff is out of control that they can control this. Um, and, and it's just being open and listening to what they have to say, because some kids might need practical skills. Um, or practical support. Other kids might need space. I'd like, well now, you know, just leave me alone because they don't know what's going on in their heads, so they might need to get that sorted. But it's just trying to open up that conversation where your child actually feels as though you've got their back rather than yet. Again, you're going to be nagging them and being on their back. Do you know what I mean?

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

right. Yeah. That, shift from trying to get them to change or. And stop being sad and asking, how can I do better? And how can I show up for you? Tell me what you need. I can see that resonating differently. 100% with both parents and the kids.

Cai Graham:

And I think a lot of parents, again, as we said, come in because it's scary. It's confusing. They come in with fear. They come in with ultimatums, they come in with accusations and I think what's also important is just understand that. Cause I've, I've had so many sort of parents sadly, so saying, well, they're just that just looking for attention. And it's what we have to remember is. Self-harm is not attention seeking. And if you just think about, if you've got a child who is cutting themselves, I would say odds on is that they are always wearing baggy jumpers and stuff that covers up all the scars. That's not looking for attention. That's trying to hide it all the way. That's trying to keep it secretive. And I think that's the thing we need to understand why is self harm still very secretive. Why is your child trying desperately for you not to know about it? And there are a number of reasons here. And number one is mum or dad will over react. That's the natural response is like, you know, you're hurting yourself and you know, it's just, this is just alien unless you followed that path yourself. But I'm talking to the masses that probably haven't here. The child is worried about mum and dad overreacting, because they know that it's not right. They know that it's probably not the best solution, but something inside them that, you know, your child is, is sort of still driving them to do this because they haven't found another solution yet. So we need to address that instead of going, you know, we need to set back and remove our own ego, remove our own emotions. This is forgive me. has nothing to do with you. This is about your child. The second reason is are the kids are saying, I don't want to cause mum or dad or whoever, whoever the significant parent or adult is, I don't want to cause them any more pain. We shouldn't be putting that responsibility on our children. I I'm, I'm struggling. I got all this going on in my world, blood run. And the last thing I want is to make mum and dad upset and make them feel bad. That should not be our child's responsibility. It is our responsibility to manage our own emotions. So the first thing that I would suggest if you hear your child is struggling as self-harming, whatever is pull yourself away from the situation and practice self-care. Breathing belly breathing or whatever it is that helps you ground yourself and become more grounded, I think is the right word. It's just to allow yourself to go, okay. Let's assess the situation with less. Emotion, how can I support my child with a level head? And that's what we need to do. Please don't put another thing for your, child's worry about it's important for the parent to go, okay, I've got this right. Okay. It's not about me. I can go and have a meltdown later. I need to sit down and support my child as best I can now. And that's, the thing, because. we can't blame our child for bad behavior in air quotes. We can't, you know, if we start judging, it's just going to add, to a more negative situation. So I think the thing is, is self-compassion not, oh, well I've failed as a parent. It's no no no no like I found out and I can step up now. And as a parent, I can do something about this so that I can best support my child. In the way my child needs me to support them because suddenly, you know, sometimes your child sort of hits a roadblock or a stumbling block. You roll up the sleeves and you think right, I can solve. That's not our responsibility either. Cause then our kids don't learn and grow. So it's, this is more of a path that you're going to have to walk together with your child so that between you, they can conquer whatever it is. They need to conquer knowing full well that you are by their side to support. them

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Mm. Mm, something that came up for me, as you were talking, was. How important it is for parents to be aware of how they're showing up and the impact that that has. Because I think sometimes we forget that, oh, if we fly off the handle, every time our kid tells us something negative, then they're going to feel less inclined to share big, hard news with us. Or if we are frustrated with our own lives or with work, and we put so much of that on them, or we show up in a way that feels uneven and unpredictable, they won't want to add to our stresses. so Exactly what you've said, recognizing the need for taking care of ourselves in this, in the parenting journey is so important. So we can show up in a more grounded, capable, and even keeled way like a neutral space, a safe space for our kids. I think so often we think of self-harm as being something that's just entirely in our kid's control, but they're reacting and making decisions also based off of how they think we'll react and how we're showing up.

Cai Graham:

Precisely. And I think a lot of this is because their minds are still growing, their brains are still growing that, you know, the adolescent brain doesn't stop sort of developing until the, mid to late twenties. And so everything is in chaos. It could be hormones, you know, a lot of adolescent life, many teenagers feel out of control. And so self harm is a way of controlling, whatever is going on. And I think the thing is, is that we can't control this, but we can help them deal with what they're going through in a much more constructive manner and a manner where they feel supported and loved and not judged because. It's confusing for all of us. And I think the thing is, is rather than feeling, I need to be able to deal with all this and I need to be in full control, rather than I've got to sort it because it's hard and your child might not be able to even verbalize what's going on.. I think sometimes turning to your child and going, no idea what's going on, but we are going to do this together. Let me hear and understand what's going on so that together we can make things better Let's just take it one day at a time. We don't have to have this solution sort of, you know, packaged up to today, but I'm with you yes, you might need to go and see doctors and yes, you might need professional support, but the point is now this is a journey your child doesn't have to do on their own anymore longer.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

What a powerful conversation with Kai and I'm stunned by how much I learned and how many nuances there are to this topic. In a separate episode, Kai, we'll dive a bit deeper into how parents can show up for their kids. The warning signs to watch for and healthy coping strategies. So keep an eye out for that. But here are my top takeaways from this episode. Number one. Self-harm put simply is harming oneself on purpose. It can manifest in many different ways. We most often think of burning or cutting. But eating disorders and self-destructive behaviors such as drugs or intentionally making bad decisions can also fall under this umbrella. Number two. Self harm is a coping mechanism. It's essentially a pattern interrupt. It's short circuits, the internal pain for a moment. To end itself harm. We have to identify what's motivating it and help our tween or teen find healthier ways to cope. Number three. Self-harm is not attention seeking. Number four. If you discover that your child is having thoughts of self harm or has engaged in self harm, it's natural to experience feelings of guilt and shame. Instead of beating yourself up, consider the discovery a positive, it's an opportunity to support your child. Number five. Ultimatums guilt and anger will not get the self harm to stop. Instead aim to come from a place of compassion and support. You can say, I'm so glad I know about this. What do you need from me? What can I do to support you? How can I help you with this? Be open and listen, the goal is to get to a place where they see you as having their back. Number six. If you discover your child is self-harming. Have compassion for yourself. And strive to show up in a calm non-judgemental way to help open up the space for honest dialogue. Taking care of yourself on this parenting journey is so important so you can approach stressful situations with a level head. Number seven. We can't control or fix self harm on our own, but we can help our young person. And deal with what they're going through in a more constructive manner. Where they feel supported and loved and not judged. And it's good to tell them that. That while you may not fully understand, and you may not know what to do. You will always be there to help. If you are worried, a family member or friend might be hurting themselves, you can also refer them to the crisis text line@crisistextline.org. They can provide help in identifying healthy coping alternatives. You can text the word connect. To 7 4 1 7 4 1 for free 24 7 help for. Or self-harm. To learn more about Cai Graham. Visit www.kaigraham.com. That's C a I G R a H a m.com. You can also follow her on Instagram at Chi gram. And find her on Facebook, her Facebook @thecaigraham. And her Facebook group. Is called the parent and teen toolbox. A huge thanks for listening. If you found something helpful or insightful. Remember to subscribe or follow, tell a friend and leave a review on apple podcasts and Spotify. I'm honored and humbled to share a portion of your day with you. And here's to strong women. May we know them, may we be them? And may we raise them?