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Help For Self-Harming Behavior

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    Help For Self-Harming Behavior

    My oldest has been struggling on and off with self-harm since he was about three or four years old. He doesn't bang his head, bite himself, pull out his hair, pinch, cut or burn himself (thankfully!) but he does slap/scratch himself in the face and head, and sometimes arms, when he's irritated, angry, is being corrected (however rationally and gently) or simply not getting his way. I've tried multiple tactics over the years and he *has* gotten much better. But the self harm comes in cycles. Especially when we are off our schedule or he cannot get enough exercise. This week has been challenging since we have had painters in the house and I have been very ill with a nasty cold. Plus, it's been raining. So add them up:
    No school
    Not much outside time
    No taekwondo
    No concrete schedule
    Mom is in bed
    Lots more tv than usual

    As someone more rustic might say, "Well, there's yer problem!"

    However, I cannot change reality for this kid. He's very adaptable and loves adventure. But I have to limit it because no matter how much fun we have, he will always want more (and more, and more). We have some fun and then we get back to business. It's a nice ebb and flow and he is considerably more flexible than in years past.

    His expressive language has burst ahead recently and he just turned nine. So I try to be moderately accommodating when he expresses his needs. For example, he insists that he dislikes school and needs a break. But without school, he's off-kilter. The longest we can really go without schooling is about a week. He just goes off the rails. So I allow him a day or two (at my discretion) and then we get back to normal.

    But there are some times when longer breaks cannot be helped. Life is happening, whether he likes it or not. He needs to be flexible and considerate of others preferences, priorities and limitations. (Mama's sick. Stop jumping up and down and making sound effects for long, uninterrupted minutes at a time whilst smacking your brother in the rear end. ...Lord, child.)

    I've tried being firm (too firm -- no dice); I've tried being authoritative (taking his things and privileges); I've given him coping options (go to a quiet place, walk away, yell for help, count to ten, scream into a pillow, clap your hands as hard as you can, deep breaths, read a book); I've been totally open and hugged him close and kissed him when he's agitated (this tactic actually works the best, but still doesn't end the behavior).

    This issue has caused the most grief and strife in our house over the years. As I said, it has come down considerably -- CONSIDERABLY -- since he was little and seems to be directly related to the maturation of his receptive and expressive language capabilities.

    So... do we keep on keeping on or is there a magic bullet I've missed somewhere?
    “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi, ‘Now, I begin.’.”

    ~Venerable Bruno Lanteri
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Boy Wonder 13 ...SC7/8 + MP4 + Rod & Staff 4/5 + Seton 5
    Joy Bubble 11 ...SC7/8 + MP4 + Rod & Staff 4/5 + Seton 5
    Cuddly Cowboy 9 ...SC7/8 + MP4 + Rod & Staff 3/4/5 + Seton 4
    Sassafras 5 ...MPK + Seton K

    #2
    Re: Help For Self-Harming Behavior

    Amen sister! We must go for coffee at sodalitas!

    My husband has been out of town this week and I was gifted a mama's retreat this weekend. We did pretty good all week. Then I packed my bag today. And made sure the laundry and dishes were done so I didn't come back to a leaning tower o dirty clothes.

    And things went off the rails!

    Me: after I finish the dishes we must do some school.
    Him: okay. runs outside to play
    Me: I'm almost done, we will do school in a few minutes.
    Him: okay
    Me: it's time to start school
    Him: ah! You don't love me. Scratches face while writhing on the floor.

    I'm interested what others suggest. Like you, this behavior ebbs and flows. Seems all is well, then bam-o!
    DS12- Simply Classical mash-up of SC Spelling 1, intensive reading remediation, and MPOA 4th grade math.
    DD10- Classic Core 4th Grade w/ 5th grade literature
    DD8- Classic Core 2nd Grade

    We've completed:
    Classic Core Jr. kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade
    Simply Classical levels B, C, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5/6

    Comment


      #3
      Re: Help For Self-Harming Behavior

      Originally posted by Colomama View Post
      Amen sister! We must go for coffee at sodalitas!

      My husband has been out of town this week and I was gifted a mama's retreat this weekend. We did pretty good all week. Then I packed my bag today. And made sure the laundry and dishes were done so I didn't come back to a leaning tower o dirty clothes.

      And things went off the rails!

      Me: after I finish the dishes we must do some school.
      Him: okay. runs outside to play
      Me: I'm almost done, we will do school in a few minutes.
      Him: okay
      Me: it's time to start school
      Him: ah! You don't love me. Scratches face while writhing on the floor.

      I'm interested what others suggest. Like you, this behavior ebbs and flows. Seems all is well, then bam-o!
      The floor -- YES! Squeal in dismay, slap own head, scratch face, FLUMP into the floor like a sack of potatoes, pretend to be knocked out.

      Is it a boy thing? A nine year old thing? A nine year old boy thing? GAHH!

      Coffee sounds super appealing!
      “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi, ‘Now, I begin.’.”

      ~Venerable Bruno Lanteri
      ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
      Boy Wonder 13 ...SC7/8 + MP4 + Rod & Staff 4/5 + Seton 5
      Joy Bubble 11 ...SC7/8 + MP4 + Rod & Staff 4/5 + Seton 5
      Cuddly Cowboy 9 ...SC7/8 + MP4 + Rod & Staff 3/4/5 + Seton 4
      Sassafras 5 ...MPK + Seton K

      Comment


        #4
        Re: Help For Self-Harming Behavior

        I have no advice, but I'm right there with you ladies.

        When A is frustrated with himself (which is pretty frequently as he is a perfectionist) he smacks himself in the head pretty hard. If he gets really upset he bites his arm.

        He is also a nine year old boy.

        Now G seems to bang his head into things for enjoyment. I haven't gotten that one figured out either.
        Susan

        2021-2022
        A (13) - Simply Classical 7/8
        C (12) - Simply Classical 7/8
        G (8) - Simply Classical 1

        Comment


          #5
          Re: Help For Self-Harming Behavior

          Originally posted by Anita View Post

          So... do we keep on keeping on or is there a magic bullet I've missed somewhere?
          Oh goodness it sounds like a rough week!
          Yes sadly no magic bullet here, keep on keeping on or as my star wars loving geeky kids shout "Stay on Target!"

          It is so hard to see kids self harm.
          We have gone through really intense periods of face punching, it has improved the older he gets...moving into the teen years now...I know stress and routine changes are so hard and as you said the more trouble with expressive language there is the more the behavior crops up...we always have big dips in communication when he is feeling overwhelmed.

          One thing we have seen as the verbal skills progressed was he began first adding then switching to negative self talk rather than just self harming so we were better able to see what feeling was triggering the behavior and we began to verbally mirror it to engage him and draw him out. It seems like for ds the self harm happens when a mental loop of 'feeling' is happening...fear, anxiety, confusion, frustration etc...we had a therapist once say that it helps to remember that anger (against others or self harm) is always the second feeling...it is always a reaction to something else...but while we as parents can often recognize what the first feeling was...fear, sadness, confusion, etc...our kids don't always have the ability to recognize it or to separate themselves from it.

          So when ds was in a calm spot we would talk about things that had happened..."boy you were having big feelings earlier when you punched the wall. I know you were really upset when the power went out...I know sometimes I get really scared when it is dark and I was not expecting it...it was frighting for your sister too..."

          We have really worked on building up a good vocabulary of feeling words...talking aloud in front of ds about how we are feeling in given situations...poetry has a lot of great feelings in it...talking about the physical sensations we are having..."mmm my heart is beating gently and quietly right now I am feeling so calm"...whew that horn was so loud it startled me and my heart is pounding so hard !"

          We have a lot of vocab built up so now we can often keep things from escalating by having ds check how his body is feeling (oh my heart is racing and i am sweaty ..I am feeling anxious about the dentist I am gonna go get calm under my beanbag) or just noting that things are stressful and acknowledging it for him...(hey things are going to be loud today with all the company that might feel overwhelming, it is ok if you feel crowded to take a break in my room to take care of yourself)

          Self care has sort of become a watchword...we work all to remember we need to be more gentle on ourselves then things are stressful...of course now ds reminds me..."mama you have been crabby all morning...how are you feeling? are you worried? are you cold? do you need coffee? you need to self care" <3

          So lots of preemptive things but like the others no great magic advice for in the moment but much commiseration and hope for you! It sounds like you are working so hard for your kiddo!
          Last edited by MaggieAnnie; 05-13-2017, 08:06 PM.
          DD - Graduated!
          DS - core 12 with remediation/support
          DD - core 9 with remediation/support
          DS - core 7 with remediation/support

          Comment


            #6
            Re: Help For Self-Harming Behavior

            Originally posted by sfhargett View Post
            I have no advice, but I'm right there with you ladies.


            Now G seems to bang his head into things for enjoyment. I haven't gotten that one figured out either.
            Ahhh this made me laugh... my middle two did this when then were younger...both on walls and with each other...they called them dwarf hugs ...like from Tolkein's dwarves...finally our long suffering beloved family doc suggested to them that they wear helmets if they were going to head-butt like football players because both ds and dd went around for about a year with bruises on their foreheads...it is easier to laugh about these things years on...I certainly had my share of tears over it at the time!

            Lots of OT seemed to settle that one down.
            DD - Graduated!
            DS - core 12 with remediation/support
            DD - core 9 with remediation/support
            DS - core 7 with remediation/support

            Comment


              #7
              Re: Help For Self-Harming Behavior

              Good discussion!

              MaggieAnnie, I love this approach:

              It is ok if you feel crowded to take a break in my room to take care of yourself.

              Focusing on "taking good care of yourself" gives that important replacement behavior, so the child practices the good, rather than merely avoiding the bad.


              Anita,

              This will be long, but I feel for you. We had Self-Injurious Behavior (SIB) & other destructive behaviors/habits here for years. Clawing furniture, slicing the floor, purposefully swallowing metal & wood objects, biting or otherwise painfully marking forearms, scratching and pummeling his face -- this began in boyhood and continued into early teen years. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

              Except in very unstable conditions (e.g., mania or extreme impulsivity), blessedly we do not see this today at 22.


              What helped:

              Retraining and equipping with better things to do.
              Reassuring that nothing will surprise us, and that there is nothing we cannot talk through and work through together.
              Rethinking and re-framing the self-talk and feelings of frustration, anger, fear, or persecution. (He says now he despised those 'thinking papers," but he knows they helped.)
              Not over-attending, yet not acting as if it were acceptable.
              --I often said, "We do not call people names, and that includes ourselves."
              --"We do not hurt or harm people, and that includes ourselves."
              Replacing the harmful inclinations with rewarded self-control.
              Looking for a lessening, rather than expecting pure or immediate extinction.
              Providing (i.e., requiring) physical outlets.


              As you already know, when you are at your best and your son has all of the supports you provide, the SIB is lessened. The hard times come when you are unusually busy, weak, ill, or just tired. I remember many times placing my son on the wood floor in my room with a soft, safe preoccupation and closing the door while I rested (i.e., collapsed), because I simply could not continue, nor could I leave him alone. This was a hard, hard season.

              When you feel stronger & more lively & your usual pro-active self, and when the schedule allows his physical outlets and structure and engaged occupation with his lessons, the SIB will diminish again. But it does ebb and flow. Sometimes it can disappear completely.


              If you want some reading on the topic (beyond the basics, which you already know), consider looking through some of these links. Though often related to autism, SIB is not limited to autism, so the techniques can help in other scenarios.

              https://www.autism.com/symptoms_self-injury

              https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3990505/ -- See especially Antecedent-based interventions, Extinction-based intervention strategies.

              If you ever want professional help, know your options. Many will come from a behaviorist's perspective, so you will need to supplement with the more humane approach that focuses on God's love for him and your love for him, just as you mentioned.
              ABA, BCBA https://ibcces.org/aba-bcba-and-cas-...s-it-all-mean/.



              Thanks for raising this topic. A surprisingly high % of our ASD children struggle with this. An even higher % of those children probably wish they didn't.


              I will say that my 6'2" son is now one of the gentlest people I know, with gentle high-fives to his fellow challenged baseball players, gentle hugs to his sister and to me, gentle embraces of the elderly at church. He regrets those early years deeply. Looking back, he is as confused and troubled by his behaviors now as we were then.

              He knows all is still tenuous, so he must practice good "self care," as Maggie said, all his life. His classical Christian education with the continual under-girding of faith instruction, supplemented with OT, diet changes, swimming & running, time in nature, medication, -- and just the mercy of God -- have borne fruit over much time.


              Earlier this evening, my husband grilled, Michael set the picnic table, and Michelle helped with the toast of sparkling grape juice (my kids' "wine" for special occasions) for Mother's Day. Then Michael gave me a thick classic book of poetry along with this poem he wrote:


              Mothers


              Honor your father and your mother that you may live long in the land....

              My mother is a gift to many;
              She has raised me well.
              May I honor her, serve her, obey her;
              Only time will tell.

              Many give her honor,
              Many lavish fame.
              But I still call her Mother,
              For that still is her name.


              Michael Swope, Mother's Day, 2017



              A blessed Mother's Day to all of you hardworking, merciful, loving, persevering mothers.

              With love and prayer for you and for your children --
              Cheryl

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