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Classroom Management for Students Who Self-Harm

Susan Saurel

Self-harm among the student population is surprisingly common. According to some studies, between 13 and 24 percent of pupils engage in some form of self-injurious behavior. That’s the reason why teachers need to use classroom management to learn how to recognize this syndrome and act promptly to prevent more serious consequences. Self-inflicted violence is the way some adolescents are trying to overcome extreme emotions and stressful situations. Medicine recognizes the Repetitive Self-Mutilation Syndrome (RSM) as an impulse disorder. But as the specialists from XpertWriters always suggest putting things simply, we will say that self-harm is the act of hurting yourself deliberately. Even though students use it to cope with emotional stress, it is not a suicide attempt. On the contrary, students who hurt themselves mostly keep it under control, doing it to actually remove pain and sorrow. Once they hurt themselves, adolescents’ brains start emitting endorphin, which is the antidepressant present in all of us. The result is the sense of consolation and relief. Of course, this is not a healthy way to deal with problems, so teachers must know to detect it and try to stop it. In this article, we will show you classroom management techniques to work with students who practice self-harm.

Classroom Management: Why Do Students Injure Themselves?

Emotional outbursts cause self-cutting among students, with some serious social issues as preconditions for such behavior. First of all, it is becoming very difficult for the kids to successfully participate in their social groups. In the era of the Internet, online networking, and the race for popularity, it is easy to hurt someone and label them as losers. Some adolescents cannot afford expensive gadgets, mobile phones, or designer clothes. All this makes them feel insecure and stressed, so part of them hurts themselves to decrease pain.

Many students also feel a huge pressure coming from their parents. They have to deliver academic success, get scholarships, make sports achievements, and do all sorts of other extracurricular activities. Additionally, some teenagers don’t have a good relationship with their parents, which only intensifies their problems. All this can be simply too much for some adolescents. As always, the best method in this case is prevention, but when it does come to self-injurious behavior, here is what you as the teacher can do.

How to Respond to Students’ Self-Harm

Self-inflicted violence is not something that pupils are proud of, so they usually try to hide it by wearing long sleeves or cutting themselves on less visible body parts. However, teachers can realize that something bad is going on.

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Pay Attention

Your job is not only to educate students, but to also take care of them. Pay attention to all the details in their behavior and don’t neglect potential signs of self-harm. Don’t ignore unusual statements or situations, and try to follow the lead and discover if something strange is going on with the student. Teachers are the first who should notice self-cutting, so don’t leave it to others to solve the problem. Adolescents with this type of behavior are mostly lonely individuals, and they don’t have anyone to lean on in their life. Self-harm is their way to call for help – make sure to answer it.

Stay Calm

When you find yourself in the situation to approach the self-cutting pupil, act calmly and without judgment. Those kids are lonely and afraid, so the last thing they need is someone to blame them for the pain they feel. Don’t be disgusted with their wounds and try to address them with sympathy and understanding. Talk to them in private to let them loosen up and reveal the problems. It is never good to be impatient and to ignore your students, but in case of self-abuse it is even more important to show that you really care.

School Staff Can Help

Teachers have to make the first move with self-injurious students but they are not experts. Once you approach these students, make sure to build honest relationship and discretely take them to the school psychologist or counselor. Try not to attract too much attention from other colleagues or students, and kindly introduce self-harming pupils with the relevant school staff.


We’ve seen that teachers play the key role in detecting self-inflicted violence. However, to help in solving this issue, educators need to learn about it. School psychologists should teach them about the basics of this problem and how to react. It is important to build trust with students and learn a few compassionate questions to ask problematic pupils. For instance, try to ask your student how you can help him/her. Ask if cutting plays a big role in life, or if he/she wants you to attend the meeting with social workers. There are a lot of things that teachers can do when students need emotional support -- they just need to educate themselves.

Outside Help

Teachers should do their best to help the self-abusing students, but sometimes the problem is just too acute and they need an outside help. In case adolescents constantly injure themselves, cut strongly and more severely, or don’t even hide their open wounds, it is time for hospital professionals to step in. Send  this student to the nearest hospital for help as soon as possible.

Don’t Blame Yourself

This whole article is about how to detect self-harm and help students deal with it. However, educators are not almighty and can’t see everything that happens in the school. So don’t blame yourself too much in case you missed the opportunity to help the self-injuring adolescent sooner. Learn from your own mistakes, but feel free to give yourself a break. Before they start working, teachers usually think that everything is going to be perfect. Unfortunately, things are often beyond our control.

The non-suicidal self-injury is more common in schools than teachers could imagine. Each year, almost 2 million cases of self-harm take place in the U.S. alone. That’s why teachers should learn to pay attention to student behavior and act as the first instance to help adolescents who are dealing with this issue. We gave you the know-how in this article. We hope you read it carefully – it can genuinely provide a much-needed support to some adolescents.

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