When your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and scared. As a parent, you feel a heavy responsibility to protect your offspring, and an eating disorder can seriously threaten your child’s physical and mental health. But, we’re here to help because you will play a significant role in their recovery – and trust us, long-term recovery is possible.
If you’re looking for tips to support your child with an eating disorder, here are seven ways you can make all the difference:
- Get help sooner rather than later – if you suspect your child has an unhealthy relationship with food, get to their primary care physician soon. The longer the struggle, the longer the recovery can take. Their doctor can point you toward a therapist specializing in eating disorders or offering eating disorder programs. Do NOT try to tackle this on your own – this is a complex condition, and professional treatment is critical. “Talk to everyone who will listen. Hiding, secrecy, and avoidance perpetuate the illness.”1
- Lay on unconditional love – Your child will be going through all kinds of emotions – many of them expressing themselves in turbulent ways. They need to know that you’re there for them no matter what. They need to feel your love through the setbacks and the milestones.
- Get a support crew – You may have family or friends who have experienced an eating disorder, or you may just have some incredibly understanding people in your life. Surround your family with people who can listen, who are there to pitch in, who genuinely care about you all.
- Knowledge is power – be open to learning about eating disorders. It’s a steep learning curve, but there are a lot of resources out there. Don’t waste time blaming yourself – you are not the cause of the disease, but you can be an integral part of the solution. Arm yourself with education.
- Keep an eye on their health – Children with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are at increased risk for other health issues such as heart issues, dental health complications, and digestive problems.
- Be present – There are so many ways to be present now in your child’s life. Take them to their appointments every time. Participating makes them feel supported and will provide you with knowledge about the treatment. Also, it’s a great way to show your support. Invite them to engage with you in activities they used to enjoy, or find a new activity that you can share together.
- Patience, my friend – Did we already mention? Recovery is possible, but not always immediately. The treatment process, including long-term therapy and interventions, can involve years, with both progress and setbacks. It is a long game, but it’s essential for their recovery.
“If your child is being treated for an eating disorder, their treatment team will play a big part in their recovery. But do not underestimate the importance of your love and support.”2
Does your child have an eating disorder, and you’re wondering how to navigate this? Visit our Resource Hub and join one of the many online parent-to-parent support groups to hear how other parents are managing similar family issues.
1 “Parents Survive to Thrive Guide”, BC Children’s Hospital, 2016.