Thursday 29 September 2016

Responding to self-harming teenagers with calm and care

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Children who self-harm are not just ‘looking for attention’
Children who self-harm are not just ‘looking for attention’

I was heartened to read Stella O'Malley's contribution, "Self-harm: how to hear your troubled teen's cry for help" (Irish Independent, September 11). As a clinical child psychologist working with children and families, it is an issue that is far more prevalent than one would imagine and which many parents understandably find very worrying and difficult to understand.

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What is concerning is that when you combine a lack of understanding with a parent's immediate inclination to protect their child from any harm, the response can feel very panicky, which is not helpful to the child and may lead them to retreat further into their secret feelings.

If one is to view "self-harming as a distorted version of self-soothing", then it reminds us that it is a way of coping with the world and lessening emotional pain through the release of the brain's endorphins.

Granted, it is a very maladaptive way to cope as it is physically damaging and only provides short-term relief, but what is important is for parents to try to understand why their child is engaging in this behaviour and what function it is serving for them.

What can help parents to remain calmer is the knowledge that self-harm and the threat of suicide are different, as many who self-harm never go on to attempt suicide. Suicide represents the ending of a life, whereas self-harm represents a survival strategy and may reduce suicidal feelings for a time.

A common myth is that people who self-harm are just "looking for attention". However, a much more supportive and accurate view is that people who self-harm are actually "in need of attention". Children need to be responded to in a calm and thought-out way that acknowledges the distress they are experiencing rather than a negative and fearful reaction to the injury.

What can really help as a parent is to show your child that you care ("I noticed the scars on your arms. I am worried about you and interested in knowing more about them if you would feel comfortable in telling me?").

Try to explore with your child the reason behind the self-harm and any triggers. Most of all, slowly build trust with your child rather than being confrontational. In this way you have a better chance of encouraging them to seek the professional help they really need.

Malie Coyne

Galway

Resurgence of Fianna Fáil

Ivan Yates (Irish Independent, August 27) referred to Fianna Fáil as "steaming ahead on the road to irrelevance". He also wrote of Micheál Martin and Jeremy Corbyn having common goals - "a march back to the politics of the 1950s and 1960s".

Regardless of Yates' remarks, both are men with personal visions grounded on solid experiences.

Martin, with his party, has carefully selected 46 candidates to date, with still 10 more selection conventions in the coming weeks. Corbyn has shown his mettle with a massive leap to become the knight in shining armour leading the giant British Labour Party into an optimistic future.

There is a real possibility that Martin and his reinvented Fianna Fáil will lead the next government. What more appropriate political outfit to be in power for the centenary year of the 1916 Rising? During a time of adversity when others fell by the wayside or ran, Martin was the one to persevere and retain respect for his integrity.

Everything memorable and of relevance in the history of the State occurred under Fianna Fáil: De Valera keeping us out of World War Two, the Sean Lemass industrial revolution, Charles Haughey with free travel for pensioners and giving us Knock airport. Not forgetting, of course, Bertie Ahern's part in the Northern Ireland peace initiative and former health minister Martin's own role in implementing the smoking ban that has saved thousands of lives to date.

Nothing is more natural or progressive than change. Micheál Martin is not one to sit in the wings for a second term.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Corbyn euphoria is baffling

The euphoria accompanying Jeremy Corbyn's election as British Labour leader is really stumping me. All we seem to hear is how his victory is "a victory for the common man" and how a "new era" has dawned in British politics.

To listen to the fawning, you'd swear he'd been elected prime minister when the reality is that he most likely never will be.

What has happened here is that the disillusioned left wing of what was founded as a left-wing party has elected a far-left leader in an election involving a minuscule percentage of the same British public who ringingly endorsed right-wing, conservative policies and principles as recently as four months ago.

This doesn't spell triumph for Labour. This spells defeat and paints Labour as an unpopular alternative, which it will remain for as long as Corbyn is in charge.

Killian Foley-Walsh

Kilkenny

We'll make up our own minds

Is there anything that can be done about the pompous artist types getting together and writing letters to newspapers about the use of Skellig Michael as a 'Star Wars' film location or holding media briefings about their opinions on abortion legislation?

Perhaps they could keep their opinionated conversations for various little dinner parties and similar soirees at friends' houses, bijou cottages and mansions.

Silence could be golden from these artists, as we the people are quite capable of making up our own minds in due course.

K Nolan

Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim

It's always civilians who suffer

Michael O'Mara (Letters, September 17) asks "Where are all the superpowers - ie, Russia, USA, etc?" in relation to the refugee crisis.

From the beginning of the civil war, Russia has continued to supply arms to the Assad regime. Meanwhile, Isil is siding against Assad, though not to assist those opposing him - the intervention is an attempt to enlarge Isil's power base in the so-called Levant.

The US recently intervened by carrying out air-strikes against Isil in Iraq and Syria. In this complicated situation, where there are no easy answers, it is ordinary civilians who continue to suffer.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

Irish Independent

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