By Dr. Kristin Hardy, pediatric psychologist at CHOC
All parents want to keep their children safe. However, as a parent of a child who is thinking about wanting to harm themselves, it can be hard to imagine how to keep your child safe at home when the person who wants to harm your child is your child!
One of the most effective ways to increase the safety of a child or teen who has thoughts of self-harm or suicide is by removing objects from the environment that could be used as a means of harming oneself, such as knives, scissors, guns, medication or toxic cleaning chemicals like bleach.
Tips for preventing your child from self-harming with household items
By removing potentially dangerous objects from the home, caregivers can reduce the risk of having a child engage in self-harm even when they are thinking of harming themselves. Not having the means to engage in self-harm, in turn, increases the likelihood that the youth will have more time to use effective coping skills that can help them manage their emotional distress.
In addition to general gun safety, which is recommended for all children and families, there are other objects that the caregivers of suicidal or self-harming children must remove to make the home environment as safe as possible. This is commonly referred to as “means restriction,” or limiting your child’s access to the means to harm themselves. Means restriction could be compared to preventing a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs from getting behind the wheel and possibly causing an accident by taking the keys to their car.
Potentially dangerous items at home to watch for if your child is at risk for self-harm
Though means restriction can sometimes seem excessive or even unnecessary, it goes along with the old saying, “better safe than sorry.” Ultimately, this is the best way to prevent or even delay engagement in harmful behavior. So how do you create a safe environment? Use the chart below to identify some of the most common potentially dangerous objects and what to do about them. Read carefully as there are sometimes different guidelines for different items:
Over-the-counter medications (examples: Benadryl, aspirin, ibuprofen/Advil, acetaminophen/Tylenol, antihistamines, cold/cough medication, etc.)
|– Store all medications in a secure, locked container (lock box, locked cabinet, safe, etc.).|
– Do NOT store in a bag or other container that can be easily broken into or try to hide objects somewhere that is not locked.
– Dispose of any medication that is expired or no longer being used.
– Keep track of how much medication you should have in each bottle/container.
|– Do not keep guns in the home.|
– If you own guns, store them in a secure gun safe that the youth does not have the key or combination for.
– Do not leave the keys to the safe in a location where youth can access it.
– Consider temporarily storing the firearms out of the home or at a facility.
– Keep ammunition stored in a separate location from the firearms and store guns unloaded.
|Sharp objects |
Razors (box cutters, shaving and/or eyebrow razors, Exacto blades)
|– Do a thorough sweep of your entire home (garage, youth’s room, living room, bathrooms, kitchen, etc.)|
– Store all sharp objects in a locked container (lock box, locked cabinet, safe, etc.)
– Do NOT store in a bag or other container that can be easily broken into or try to hide objects somewhere that is not secure.
|Other potentially dangerous objects|
Cleaning Products (bleach, ammonia, etc.)
Second-story (or third, etc.) windows
Access to rooftops
|– Consider removing these objects from the home entirely.|
– Lock away items that are not removed from the home.
– Lock all high-level windows and access to rooftops.
Additional tips to ensure the safety of your child who experiences the urge to harm themselves
While means restriction is one of the most effective ways of ensuring child safety, it is not foolproof. In addition to restricting access to these objects, here are some additional tips for caregivers of youth who experience urges to harm themselves:
- If your child has accessed one of the above listed objects and has seriously harmed themselves, immediately call 911 or take your child to the nearest hospital emergency room (ER). Even if there does not appear to be serious harm, if your child has ingested any medication, toxic cleaning supplies, or other substance to harm themselves, take your child to the nearest ER as effects of the ingestion may not be apparent until it has caused serious harm.
- If the harm is not serious (for example, if your child began to scratch their skin with a sharp object but stopped themselves before doing serious harm), consider contacting your child’s outpatient mental health team first for guidance before going to the ER.
- If your child is still able to access one of the objects listed above, review how to secure or dispose of these items with other members of your household and do an additional sweep of your home to remove any objects left out or change the locks of any cabinets or boxes that the youth may have gained access to.
- If your child struggles with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it is important to connect your child to a therapist and/or psychiatrist. Therapy can address the underlying mental health concerns that may be causing or exacerbating these symptoms. Medication can also help in the management of mental health symptoms.
If your child expresses thoughts of wanting to harm themselves or others, call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest Emergency Department.
(877) 7CRISIS or (877) 727-4747
Text “HOME” to 741741
Save for later
Download, print or share on social media.
Another crisis service available to Orange County, CA, residents 24 hours per day, 7 days per week is OC Links. This program sends mental health clinicians to any location throughout Orange County to evaluate and provide recommendations for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. To access, call (855) 625-4657.
Caring for a youth who engages in self-harm or suicidal behaviors can feel frightening, confusing, and overwhelming. It can often feel like it is hard to know what to do to truly help the youth (and other people living in the home) feel safer. Through means restriction and connecting the youth to the appropriate mental health services, caregivers can help their child manage the urge to harm themselves and foster a safer environment for everyone at home.
For more health and wellness resources from the pediatric experts at CHOC, sign up for the Kids Health newsletter.
How to prevent and treat respiratory illnesses this season
Unfortunately, many kids get infected with respiratory illnesses in the fall and winter seasons. CHOC experts highly encourage all eligible members of households to receive their annual flu shots. Other preventative measures like good hygiene and staying home when sick can help protect families from illness. The following articles and guides provide more information.
The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.