Self-injury in Children / Why kids hurt themselves and what you can do about it

Sarah Feuerbacher, director at SMU's Center for Family Counseling, talks about children and self-injury.

By Sharifa Stevens

Kinsey could stand in a field, arms upraised, and butterflies would come to rest on her arms and fingers, like something out of a Disney princess movie. She had a special connection with animals and spent free time outdoors talking to squirrels and admiring birds.
 Kinsey’s mom, Cheryl, attributes this special sensitivity to why her daughter tended to be emotionally volatile, churning with unexpressed feelings. Kinsey’s tender-heartedness extended to her relationships. She was often frustrated with people, whom she took at their word. She would hurt deeply when they didn’t come through.
 Over time, the little girl who craved the outdoors with arms outstretched spent more and more time alone in her room, texting, arms covered with long sleeves or bandages.
 One day, Cheryl noticed that an elastic bandage covered her daughter’s arm. “What happened?” she asked.
 “Oh, nothing.”
 “Kinsey, let me see your arm.” Cheryl felt a sense of foreboding. Underneath the bandage, a web of scabs slivered across Kinsey’s arm, dainty and slight, like Kinsey herself. Thin red lines replaced the kisses of butterflies.
 An athlete and straight-A student, Kinsey confessed that she had been cutting herself with scissors for months. Cheryl’s sixth-grade daughter was self-injuring....

Sarah Feuerbacher, Ph.D., clinical director of the Southern Methodist University Center for Family Counseling, notes that kids often can’t comprehend their own pain. “A child does not have the ability … to understand extreme sadness, confusion or anger, but they do understand the pain of a boo-boo and also know how it heals,” she says. Through self-injury, the child can experience pain and healing in the body that she can see and feel, unlike the emotional pain she may be experiencing....