It’s sad when children feel the need to hurt themselves physically no matter what age. But a recent study shows that kids as young as 7 are harming themselves as a way of dealing with emotional pain. They’re engaging in what researchers call “non-suicidal self-injury,” things like cutting themselves or banging their heads. It’s a sobering thought, that’s for sure. We like to think of childhood as being safe and care-free, certainly not a time when kids feel the need to hurt themselves.
Researchers looked at 665 kids between the ages of 7 and 16; they found that 9 percent of girls and almost 7 percent of boys surveyed have engaged in self-injury. “It’s unfortunately probably more common than we want to think,” said lead researcher Benjamin Hankin, an associate psychology professor at the University of Denver.
In younger kids, hitting was the most common form of self-injury, whereas high-school students were most likely to cut or carve their skin. “You can have young kids who are experiencing a lot of emotions, things that they don’t know how to deal with it, so they start banging their head against the wall,” Hankin said.
What’s really scary is that many parents have no clue their children are injuring themselves, mostly because they tend to do it in private. Of course, the big question is how to best respond once you’re aware of the situation. According to Stephen Lewis, who has studied self-injury at the University of Guelph in Ontario, parents should “react in a way that conveys [they] care about their child, and to act in a calming way and non-judgmental way.” He suggests parents talk to their child about it and try to understand what’s motivating this behavior (anything from trouble at school to friendships).
(Photo: Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock)