Should I start cutting myself now?

Cracks - why is my child hurting himself?

There are different reasons for scratching. There is not always a mental illness behind it, but many children and adolescents try scratching out of curiosity because their best friend does it or it is 'in' in their clique, their class. Quite a few imitate it because a famous movie star does it. Lindsay Lohan's scratching behavior, for example, was the subject of all the media. This of course arouses curiosity all the more, and a bad example catches on.

One reason for parents to be very concerned is when their child refuses to talk about his scratching behavior and this has been going on for months. Persistent scratching behavior is a criterion for mental illness and for seeking professional assistance. Today we know: the longer the scratching behavior lasts, the greater the risk that the behavior becomes independent and becomes part of the habitual repertoire of behavior of the child or adolescent. Experts have also found that the pain felt when scratching releases the body's own opiates (endorphins), which can lead to addictive scratching behavior. The earlier professional help is sought, the greater the chances of ending the self-harming behavior.

What exactly is “scratching” and what do scratchers do?

An official and frequently quoted definition of what scratching or self-harming behavior is in general is as follows: “Self-harming behavior (SVV) is a functionally motivated, direct and open injury or damage to one's own body that is not socially accepted and not suicidal Goes hand in hand with intentions. "

Sometimes this behavior is also referred to by other terms, such as "auto-aggressive behavior" or self-mutilation. So scratches injure themselves on purpose, they inflict wounds and thus pain. And almost any means are suitable for them.

The most common injury is cutting or scratching the skin with a razor blade, knife, broken glass, or bottle cap. Scissors and needles also serve as instruments for self-harm; Ritzer take what's on hand. But scratching, pinching with your fingernails, biting until blood comes out of the wound, hitting yourself with a hammer are also self-harming behaviors. Scraping off scabs to delay the healing of a wound or make it impossible is also a self-harming behavior. According to official statistics, 85% of scratchers injure their extremities, only 15% injure their torso.
At what age should parents pay attention?

Self-harm is revealed in younger and younger children. Cases of 9-year-old Ritzern are now known. Up to the age of 13, around 3% of children show self-harming behavior, after which the number increases rapidly: In the 14 to 17 year olds, around 29% of the age group scratch themselves. After that, the numbers will decline slightly until there is an increase in self-harming behavior among those over 20 years of age.

After the age of 30, the scratching behavior hardly occurs. The period of time over which the scratching is carried out and those affected finally manage to get rid of it without professional assistance is sometimes up to 15 years. In addition, scratching behavior is more pronounced in girls and young women than in male children and adolescents.

Why do scissors do this to themselves?

As already mentioned, there are some copycats among the scribes who imitate this behavior out of curiosity. This type of self-harm is also known as a superficial or moderate form of self-harm. In many children and adolescents, however, the scratching is a reaction to stressful circumstances which they feel overwhelmed by. In this context it takes on the character of a coping strategy. Many of those affected stated that they cut themselves in order to end unbearable emotional states of tension, in order to feel that they are alive, or in order not to have to feel inner emptiness, feelings of loneliness or fear. Some said they cut themselves to punish themselves. Most people cannot understand these reasons. You are shocked and disturbed and repulsed; they are helpless and helpless in the face of this behavior.

In our culture, scratching is a behavior that is socially rejected and stigmatizes and excludes those who do it.

What warning signals can parents use to tell if their child is scratching itself?

Scratchers know that their behavior is not socially acceptable and therefore try to hide their scratching behavior. Parents should pay attention if their child suddenly refuses to wear short-sleeved T-shirts or shorts in warm temperatures, because the arms and legs are usually scratched because these body parts are easily accessible. The refusal to go swimming, take part in physical education or the refusal to use a communal shower can also be warning signals - especially if all of this was previously possible without prejudice. Emotional warning signals can also be a clue, e.g. B. if a child or adolescent shows a different withdrawal behavior than before and refuses to talk about it. Sometimes a scorer fails to hide any traces of his scratching behavior. When asked where the scars came from, they often explain it to be "scratches" that they got while playing with the pet or when playing with a friend's pet. Other explanations that sound plausible at first are also put forward. Parents should definitely be suspicious if the scars do not look like random scratches, but are arranged in parallel and can be observed over and over again over a longer period of time.

Where can parents and those affected find help?

In any case, cracks should be taken seriously. Parents may be able to find out why their child is scratching by talking to them. Is it a cry for help, an attempt to (unsuccessful) communication about these visible signs? Or is it curiosity, a mimicking, does it have the character of belonging to a group of the same age. Should it signal superiority or shock to others? If the child blocks the conversation with the parents and refuses to communicate, other ways of gaining access to the child should be considered. One thing is certain: children and adolescents who scratch themselves out of desperation absolutely need help. Help that parents and family cannot provide alone in this case! Relatives are overwhelmed in this case. It is therefore important to seek professional advice without false shame. The first step would be, for example, to contact the responsible parenting advice center or the family's pediatrician / general practitioner. These professional helpers can then initiate further measures. A doctor can, if necessary, issue a referral to a child and adolescent therapist. In severe cases, psychotherapeutic treatment may not be sufficient and referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist may be necessary. In extreme cases, an inpatient stay can provide the help that is needed.

It is important to give the child the best possible support that it needs to get rid of self-harming behavior at an early stage. This gives them the opportunity to get to know other coping strategies for stress and overwhelming situations. This is only possible with the right professional support.

In addition to the psychological or psychiatric help that parents use for their child, they should also pay attention to medical care. As already mentioned, the scratching takes place occasionally in the clique, i.e. collectively. This can also mean that Ritzer use what is currently at hand: They pass the razor blade, the broken glass, the knife around. Parents should consult with their family doctor about whether a vaccination against tetanus or hepatitis makes sense to prevent infection and its consequences.

What success can expert help bring?

According to experts, the prospects of getting away from scratching behavior are pretty good. Therapists specializing in this disorder reported that the scratching behavior was successfully completed in approx. 70-80% of the cases - provided that professional support was not delayed for too long.

Self help

There are various suggestions for scratchers on how to resist the impulse to scratch themselves:

  • mess with a rubber band
  • Press ice cubes onto the skin
  • take a cold shower
  • to let off steam with exercise
  • instead of cutting, draw a line on the skin with a red pencil
  • scream
  • use a punching bag
  • put the feelings on paper: write a diary or paint
  • Carving instead of scratching: Working on a piece of wood or soapstone
  • call the “number against sorrow”

Do the scars stay forever?

Since scratching is socially stigmatized, parents often worry whether their child will be disadvantaged by the scratching behavior later in life. These worries are justified, because some scars are conspicuous or disfiguring and can raise questions about the 'why and where from' in the social environment. Who would want to have to explain to their employer or future colleague that they were a Ritzer? In the meantime, however, there are possibilities, for example by laser treatment, to completely remove or at least modify scars. One of the clinics that has the removal of scratches on its list of indications is, for example, the Hansaklinik in Dortmund.


  • Klosinski, Gunther: When children lay hands on themselves: Self-destructive behavior in children and adolescents, Becksche series ISBN: 978-3406420832
  • Levenkron, Steven (2006): The pain runs deeper. Understand and overcome self-harm. Kösel 3rd ed. ISBN: 3-466-30544-6
  • Schoppmann, Susanne (2003): “Then I just held out my arms to her” Self-harming behavior from the perspective of those affected. Huber 2003, ISBN 3-456-83972-3
  • Bergmann, Wolfgang (2006): The Drama of the Modern Child. Hyperactivity, anorexia, self harm. Beltz ISBN 3-407-22891-0

Helpful addresses and phone numbers

  • The number against grief for children and young people: 0800 111 0 333
  • The number against Kummer parents' phone: 0800 111 0 550


Helpful links for finding a doctor:

On this website, parents can search for child and adolescent psychiatric outpatient clinics or for a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry nearby:

For information and exchange with those affected:
Rote Linien is the contact and information forum for SIA members


Heide-Maria Brodmann, graduate psychologist
Clinical Psychologist in Child and Adolescent Rehabilitation and Adult Rehabilitation, Gordon - Family Trainer



Phone: 04681/74 82 72

Created and last modified on February 27, 2015