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Monday 26th August 2019

Young children report self-harming

11th June 2012

Children as young as seven have been found to self-harm, a new report has found, in what is an increasingly common emotional disorder previously believed to be mostly found among teenagers and young adults.


The study assessed self-injury rates among 3rd grade children, finding that 7% of girls and 8% of boys reported self-injuring at some point.

Previous research has put the rate of self-harm among teenagers as high as 20%, with rates as high as 40% reported among college students.

For the purposes of the study, self-injury was defined as cutting, carving, burning, piercing, or picking at the skin, or hitting oneself to cause pain, but not death.

Key differences in patterns of non-suicidal self-injury were revealed in interviews with 665 children and teens between the ages of 7 and 16, based on age and gender.

The report found that boys were just as likely to self-harm as girls before the age of 14, but by that age, girls were three times more likely to report that they had injured themselves as boys were.

Boys were more likely to report hitting themselves, while girls were four times more likely than boys to report self-harming by cutting or carving their own skin.

Of the children interviewed, 1.5% said they had engaged in non-suicidal self-harm at least five times in the year prior to the interview.

University of Denver researcher Benjamin Hankin says it is generally agreed that self-injury is becoming more prevalent among children and young people than it used to be.

Hankin said the study of self-injury was relatively new, however, with not much data available to confirm this belief.

However, anecdotal evidence from clinicians suggested that the behaviour is on the rise among children, he said.

According to paediatric psychologist Steve Pastyrnak of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Michigan, increased media coverage of the problem may actually be contributing to it.

Only a quarter of videos dealing with self-harm on YouTube actually sent a negative message about the practice, which most children say they engage in to calm themselves or to help them cope with negative emotions.

Pastyrnak said self-injury is often done as a means of stimulation or soothing, using physical pain to treat emotional pain, with some children saying they need the pain because they feel emotionally numb. Self-directed aggression may be a form of the fight-or-flight response.

However, the practice should warn caregivers that a young person may be suffering from anxiety or depression.

Pastyrnak said he teaches children and teens strategies like deep, slow breathing and tensing and relaxing the muscles as a way of dealing with stress.

He also teaches them what he calls his "Jedi mind trick," in which children are encouraged to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, which affirm that the child feels good, or expects to have fun.

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