If you are concerned your child has an eating disorder, start by sitting down and talking with them in a caring and non-judgmental way. Express your concerns as well your commitment to listening without shaming them or getting angry at them for anything.
It’s not uncommon for those conversations to not go well, no matter how you approach it. It’s okay if your teen denies having a problem or even gets angry. Many kids with an eating disorder will react defensively when confronted for the first time. They might not be ready to work on recovery, or they might be embarrassed. Some kids also worry about being a “burden” and don’t want to out stress or worry their parents.
If you still suspect your child has an eating disorder but he or she denies anything is wrong, book an appointment with his or her doctor and/or contact us to talk to an eating disorder specialist on our team. We can set up an appointment for your child, and even if they don’t want to come, teens often end up opening up over time as they develop a relationship with their therapist.
Our eating disorder therapists are used to dealing with teens who refuse to admit they have a problem. We are experienced in dealing with denial and making a child feel comfortable talking about the problem. Sometimes, kids find it easier to admit that they have a problem to someone outside of their immediate family.
Whether your child wants help should not determine whether you get help for him or her. Eating disorders are very dangerous mental illnesses that need to be addressed as soon as possible to avoid medical complications and other serious issues. Research shows that recovery is more likely the earlier someone receives intervention.
It can be deeply distressing for a parent to know that their teen is struggling with an eating disorder, so our heart goes out to you for all that your family is going through. Know that it’s not your fault, as eating disorders are complicated conditions with many factors that go into their development. At the same time, it is your responsibility to get them treatment as well as be willing to make any changes at home that could be helpful in your child’s recovery. We are here to support YOU too, as this is an incredibly challenging journey for parents.
Here are some other tips (adapted from the National Eating Disorders Association):
- Examine your own attitudes about food, weight, body image and body size. Think about the way you personally are affected by body-image pressures, and share these with your child.
- Avoid threats, scare tactics, angry outbursts, and put-downs. Bear in mind that an eating disorder is often a symptom to extreme emotional and stress, an attempt to manage emotional pain, stress, and/or self-hate. Negative communication will only make it worse.
- Set caring and consistent limits for your teen. For example, know how you will respond when your child wants to skip meals or eat alone, or when they get angry if someone eats their “special” food.
- Remain firm. Regardless of pleas to “not make me,” and promises that the behavior will stop, you have to stay very attuned to what is happening with your child and may have to force them to go to the doctor or the hospital. Keep in mind how serious eating disorders are.
- Do whatever you can to promote self-esteem in your teen in intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to disordered eating.
- Encourage your teen to find healthy ways to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or self-hatred.
Reach out for help and support
If you have a child or teen struggling with food or body image, please don’t wait to get your him or her help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or click below to schedule online with one of our eating disorder therapists.