Self-harm in children and young people happens when a person experiences an overwhelming flood of emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, hate, and a lack of control. This leads them to inflict deliberate harm upon themselves as a way to relieve the flood of emotions they are experiencing and punish themselves for feeling them in the first place. This can take the form of cutting themselves with sharp objects, over-eating or under-eating, pulling their hair out, burning themselves, and misusing intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs.

Distress and overwhelming emotions often manifest during school time, and as a teacher it is important to have an awareness that school can be a trigger for pupils struggling with self-harming tendencies. Create a safe and open space for all pupils by letting them know you are always here to support and hear them out whenever they need it.

Common signs of self-harm include cuts, burns, and hair-pulling – these are easier to spot as they are often visible on the student’s body. However, young people can be very good at hiding their scars under long jumpers and trousers. If a pupil is adamant about keeping their jumper on even during hot temperatures, this may be a sign that they’re trying to hide their scars – if this is the case, respect their boundaries and do not insist that they show you their scars, as this may cause more harm to the wellbeing of the child.

It is crucial to note that physical signs are not the only indicators of self-harm in children. Noticeable distress, emotional outbursts, or reclusion are also signs of a child who is struggling to manage their emotions, which is a common cause of self-harm.

If you are sure a student is self-harming, approach the situation with care and compassion. Attempt to talk with them in private to avoid classmates noticing, to make sure they will not be ridiculed or bullied.

It is not always a good idea to let the parents of a child who you know is self-harming know about the situation, as the child may come from an abusive household. Telling abusive parents about their child self-harming may cause a lot more harm to the child and lead them to feel even more misunderstood and alone. Assess the situation and contact a professional such as a social worker or a Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator (SENCO).

To learn more, download our fact sheet and watch our information film on self-harm in children.

Watch our Films

Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. It can be the acute reaction people turn to when they feel they have no other option.

Self-harm affects more people than you might think. It is estimated that between 10%-20% of all people self-harm at some point during their lifetime. It is hard to gather exact figures due to the stigma surrounding self-harm, and because people try to hide their wounds, scars and bruises.

The average age of the first incident of self-harm is around 12/13, though the rate of self-harm among younger children (aged 9-12) in the UK has increased in the last ten years.

Read and download our fact sheets, watch more videos or sign up for our mailing list and free interactive guide.

For information on how to access help and support, go to the Nip in the Bud ‘Where to go for help page’.

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Emily’s journey to recovery from Self Harm

As this film explains, pressure to succeed, feelings of guilt and deep and strong emotions that need to be resolved, can lead someone to self harm but that only acts as a momentary release.

Talking to someone to share worries can be a great help.

Read and download our fact sheets, watch more videos or sign up for our mailing list and free interactive guide.

Watch Now