Anyone facing an eating disorder has a long and hard road ahead of them to recovery. When that person is your child you may wonder how you can help them find their path to wellness. Here are three important things you can do as a parent to help and support your child if they are suffering from an eating disorder:
Be understanding. As a parent, the most important thing you can do for your child is to be understanding. While the idea that a food disorder can take over your child’s life is hard to accept or sometimes even acknowledge you can help by being there, listening, and learning from your child. You’ll need to understand what could lead your child to having the eating disorder. Some of the known reasons that youth turn to food or away are:
Control. Most people who end up with an eating disorder do so because this is the one area in their life they can have complete control. While they may feel stressed or overwhelmed with other problems or situations around them when and what they eat is something they think they can control. The problem with an eating disorder is that just the opposite is true as eventually the eating disorder takes control.
Approval. Youth who have eating disorders seem to be more co-dependent and struggle with getting the approval of parents and peers.
Feelings. From fear and loneliness to anger and aggression, intense emotions can often trigger or lead to eating disorders.
Establish goals and plans as a family (team approach.). As soon as you become aware of the eating disorder, you should approach your child about the problem. This should be done at an appropriate time, privately and with great empathy as you try to understand the initial causes and your child’s concerns. Be aware that most times when you first approach your child they will most likely deny the eating disorder. Sometimes, they will react with anger and outbursts. The first time you discuss the eating disorder you most likely won’t create a plan, you’ll simply be acknowledging the problem. In subsequent discussions with your child be sure to express your love and your support. As you talk more openly about the problem you will be able to begin creating a plan for your child.
Meet with a professional. An eating disorder is not something you can handle on your own. You must involve a professional. A good idea is to begin with your family medical doctor to ensure that your child does not have any ongoing or past damage being caused by the disorder. These medical concerns should be addressed, first. Followed by seeking the advice and support of a mental health professional. A professional therapist or counselor can guide you, your child, and your families to set goals, create a positive environment, and begin to conquer the disease.
While an eating disorder can be life changing, it is important to know that with the loving support from parents and the proper guidance from professionals, it is possible to find the road back to wellness. It could be something your child struggles with at various times throughout their life, but knowing they have your support can help make it manageable.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.