Changes in parenting strategies after a young person's self-harm: a qualitative study

Anne E Ferrey, Nicholas D Hughes, Sue Simkin, Louise Locock, Anne Stewart, Navneet Kapur, David Gunnell, Keith Hawton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
468 Downloads (Pure)


Background: When faced with the discovery of their child’s self-harm, mothers and fathers may re-evaluate their parenting strategies. This can include changes to the amount of support they provide their child and changes to the degree to which they control and monitor their child.
Methods: We conducted an in-depth qualitative study with 37 parents of young people who had self-harmed in which we explored how and why their parenting changed after the discovery of self-harm. 
Results: Early on, parents often found themselves “walking on eggshells” so as not to upset their child, but later they felt more able to take some control. Parents’ reactions to the self-harm often depended on how they conceptualised
it: as part of adolescence, as a mental health issue or as “naughty behaviour”. Parenting of other children in the family could also be affected, with parents worrying about less of their time being available for siblings. Many parents
developed specific strategies they felt helped them to be more effective parents, such as learning to avoid blaming themselves or their child for the self-harm and developing new ways to communicate with their child. Parents were generally eager to pass their knowledge on to other people in the same situation.
Conclusions: Parents reported changes in their parenting behaviours after the discovery of a child’s self-harm. Professionals involved in the care of young people who self-harm might use this information in supporting and advising parents.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20
Number of pages8
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2016


  • parenting
  • Self-harm
  • parents
  • mental health
  • Adolescence


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