Getting to the heart of why kids cut

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Getting help for cutting

If parents suspect their child is cutting, experts recommend they have a calm, nonjudgmental conversation about it.

“Don’t yell, punish or show anger about it,” Bomba says. “Be open and listen. Help them feel like they are safe and can come to you.”

Walen suggests parents can say something like, “I see you’re in pain, I love you, and I’m going to take care of this for you.”

If their wounds are more than superficial scratches, take them to a medical professional for evaluation. It's also important to find a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor who can teach appropriate coping skills and determine if there’s an underlying mental illness.

Some teach teens to draw on their arm instead of cutting when they feel numb or the need to mask pain, Stoll says.

“There’s still a mark there, there’s still a message there, but it’s not harmful,” Stoll says.
Others use controlled breathing and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques or encourage teens to write in a journal any time they feel intense emotions.

In most cases, consistent therapy works, experts say.

“Most of them don’t want to keep (cutting),” Bomba says. “They know it’s not safe, it’s not helping them in the long run, and they want to change their behavior.”

Recognizing the signs of cutting

  • Cutting, a form of self-harm, affects boys and girls of all ages. Experts recommend watching for the following warning signs:
  • Scratches, cuts and scars on the arms, legs and stomach.
  • Extra accessories and clothing to hide injuries, like bracelets or long sleeves and pants during warmer weather.
  • Unwillingness to take clothes off for activities like swimming.
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps. (For example: The cat scratched me again.)
  • Difficulty expressing emotions.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities they once enjoyed.
  • Change in grades.
  • Social isolation.


By Allison Eatough

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