Case Study 4: Fred

Working with a primary aged boy with a history of self-harming

Seven year old Fred had been excluded from his previous school because of challenging behaviour after which his mother, who had three older children, kept him at home for a term. He had been at his present school for a few weeks when he began the Story Links programme. He was one of the pupils who often self-harmed and had even talked of killing himself.

According to the SENCO, behaviour giving rise to concern in school included banging his head on the desk, punching himself and threatening to kill himself by jumping off the top of the climbing apparatus and other high places. Despite, or perhaps because of, this behaviour, the SENCO also said that adults at the school felt very caring towards him and that ‘everybody wants to take him home’.

Fred did not have any contact with his biological father but had a step-father who was a black African. His mother mentioned a racist incident at his childminder’s that had really upset Fred:

I had this phone call and I was here on reception answering the phone and my manager was probably over there and she could hear my son screaming hysterically “I want to die, I wish I could die, I’d be better off dead.” And I was sent home from work because… my husband couldn’t control him and he (Fred) had been told all black people do is kill you, and my husband’s black, by my so-called friend.
Fred’s Mum

Fred’s anxiety about his relationship with father figures and his self-harming are both clearly reflected in the following Story Links story:

Sammy and his Dad

Sammy the squirrel was in the field feeling very angry because he had lost his dad. Sammy’s dad was looking for Sammy everywhere. He was getting very worried.

Sammy started to hit his head on the tree again and again. Sammy started to cry, he did not like hitting his head…

He hit his head all day long and wished his dad were there to look after him. His dad came over the hill and called out to Sammy.

Sammy looked round and saw his dad. He ran up to him. Sammy was crying because he was so happy to be with his dad but his head was hurting. Sammy’s dad saw a red mark on Sammy’s head. He was worried for Sammy. Sammy was happy. He knew that his dad cared for him and he was there to keep him safe.

Sammy’s head hurt a little bit. He knew that he should stop hitting his head because people cared for him and they only wanted him to be happy.

This story also illustrates the way in which the Story Links teacher allows the central dilemma/tension to be explored but also provides a secure emotional ‘resting place’ at the end of the story.

Note: All names in the case studies have been changed and permissions given  by parents and pupils

Written by Trisha Waters