How do I help my child with her eating disorder?

Discovering that your child has an eating disorder can be an extremely confusing, frustrating and painful experience. It is an extremely difficult role for parents to play as they feel they need to maintain a strong demeanour in order to provide the support and love necessary in caring for a child with an eating disorder.  Parents often feel distraught, helpless, guilty, defeated, confused and exhausted.

The following list provides recommendations to help parents manage their child’s eating disorder in a way which  promotes their recovery.

Communication

Communication is essential both in promoting your child’s recovery, as well as ensuring the eating disorder does not take over the lives and interactions of everybody in your family.  Being aware of how each person in the family communicates with each other is important.  Calm, clear, concise communication is the best approach with everyone.

Knowledge and Information

Pursue knowledge and understanding of eating disorders. Becoming informed is a crucial step in best equipping yourself with the skills and strategies for supporting your child.

There is a wealth of information available online and in books which will provide background facts about eating disorders. If you are aware of the nature of eating disorders you will be more prepared to handle the changes and challenges that take place throughout a person’s eating disorder and recovery experience. 

Be A Role Model

Role model healthy behaviours and attitudes towards food, weight and body image. Talk to children about their self-image, offer reassurance that body shapes vary, teach them about the pitfalls of dieting and role model healthy eating behaviours. .

Supporting Other Family Members

If you have other children, share what you know about eating disorders, including strategies on how to best support their brother or sister towards recovery.

Try not to let the needs of the child with the eating disorder overshadow the needs of siblings. Try to give as much time and attention siblings as possible. Communication is key in ensuring other siblings understand the eating disorder and are equipped with knowledge in how to best support their sibling.

Explain that this is an important time in their sibling’s life and that, while you may be directing a lot of your time and energy to the child with the eating disorder, this situation will not be forever and your love for them is just as strong.

Be aware that the distress of siblings can be very acute and is often hidden so as not to burden parents. Encourage siblings to take part in open communication with you and other people in their support network. Encourage them to express their range of feelings about how they are coping with the situation. In addition, try to ensure other siblings are provided with the opportunity to take part in social or leisure activities which will allow them to pursue their own interests outside of the home.

Seek Support

Seek support for yourself whenever you are feeling overwhelmed. You may consider going to see a counsellor or simply connecting with somebody in your own support network.

Acknowledge Setbacks in Recovery

Acknowledge that setbacks are a normal part of recovery.

Try to take everyday as it comes. While relapses can seem devastating, it is best to view them as an opportunity for your child to learn how to better handle future situation. Each set back overcome will leave the person stronger and wiser and these are all building blocks in the recovery process. Recognition of the triggers or causes of set backs can be the only way that a person learns about them and learns to anticipate and prepare for them.

Remember recovery is a process, not an end point - consider recovery as the process of healing, rather than an outcome. Many people want to know when the person they love will be recovered and back to their old selves. For most people, there will be no particular day, event or marker that will indicate that they are ‘recovered.’ Recovery can involve personal discovery, re-learning, challenges, achievements and setbacks. For many people, it is just the beginning of a life-long process of being more aware of who they are and what is important to them. Often, people won’t go back to being their old selves, because their recovery is a positive learning experience resulting in significant personal growth.

This article is taken from the Eating Disorders Victoria website - http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/carers/for-parents

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