Dr Dawn McBride, an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge in Canada who works with troubled adolescents, told an audience in Sharjah that parents need to listen more carefully to their children, rather than judging them based on their own religious or cultural views.
Children need to be listened to, says expert
SHARJAH // Children who harm themselves are not trying to manipulate their parents, but struggling to deal with problems in their lives, said a behavioral expert at a conference in the UAE.
Dr Dawn McBride, an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge in Canada who works with troubled adolescents, told an audience in Sharjah yesterday that parents need to listen more carefully to their children, rather than judging them based on their own religious or cultural views.
"Get teenagers to talk about how they feel," she told attendees at Counselling Arabia. "They need to be more respectful. I tell teenagers they are my boss and they are my client."
She said teenagers often resort to self-harm because they have not yet developed the capacity to tolerate strong emotions or solve problems, or because they have low self-esteem.
"Cutting, for them, is a way of relief," Dr McBride said. "When somebody engages in self-harm behaviour, to them it feels so good, like a runner's high.
"Their body is craving those endorphins - it's living on them. They think: are you telling me to stop cutting when it makes me feel grounded, coherent, and whole?
"You need to teach them to manage emotions without cutting - give them alternatives."
Self-harm, she said, often goes hand in hand with eating disorders. "If you have a teenager who has a body-image problem, ask them if they also cut themselves," she said. "And suffering from separation from dad and having a non-loving mum could lead to cutting, too."
Dr Ahmed Alomash, the chairman of the department of sociology at the University of Sharjah, suggested that part of the problem was overdependence on maids. That, said Dr McBride, could make children feel that their parents don't love them.
She added that both counsellors and parents need to learn how to communicate with their children and better understand their problems.
"We should not boss them around too much," she said. "We need them to absolutely trust us. We need to learn why the client needs to cut, step into the client's world, communicate understanding to the client, connect to their feelings."
After understanding the problem, some tactics she has found useful include music, singing, praying, and even using henna.
"Some people crave patterns, so they can use henna instead of cutting their skin," Dr McBride said.
If all else fails, the priority becomes minimising harm. "If a client likes to cut x's on themselves, then I tell them before they cut themselves to carve x's in a towel, and if they still have to cut themselves, to do so with the same razor.
"That way they get to do what they want, but the razor is blunt."