If you think any one or more of the above sounds familiar, it doesn’t mean that your child definitely has an eating disorder, but if it is affecting their everyday life and stopping them enjoying the things they normally would, and other members of your family or their friends have noticed things, then it’s important to talk to someone and get some support and advice.
Talking to your child about your concerns is the first step to getting the right help and support in place. It can be difficult to have a conversation with a young person about their eating, especially if they don’t accept that there might be a problem.
Try to choose a time when you are both calm and relaxed. It’s not uncommon to receive a negative response from your child so be prepared for this; it can be very difficult for young people to accept that there might be a problem, but be patient and be prepared to try to approach them again.
If your child does have an eating disorder, then it’s usually very difficult for them to get better on their own, so it’s important to find professional help and support.
Remember, it is not the fault of you or your child.
Here are some suggestions on what you can do to help your child:
- Before you talk to you child, think about what you want to say. You may want to read some further information on eating disorders before you talk to your child. You might find this booklet from Beating Eating Disorders, a leading UK charity, helpful “Eating disorders: a guide for friends and family”
- Choose a safe place and time when you will not be disturbed, and when neither of you are feeling angry nor upset. Mealtimes are often not the best time to raise your concerns as the young person may already be feeling very stressed and anxious if they are having difficulties around eating
- Try not to focus the conversation too much around food or weight
- Explain why you are worried and mention things that have concerned you, but try not to list too many things as your child may be feeling over sensitive and that they are being watched
- Try to get your child to communicate and listen to them without interrupting, avoiding being confrontational or getting into an argument
- Try not to use accusatory language or back them into a corner. A more helpful and sensitive approach could be, for example, ‘I wondered if you’d like to talk about how you’re feeling’, rather than ‘You need to get help’
- Your child may be angry or defensive, but don’t react or become angry yourself. Try and remain calm and don’t become disheartened or frustrated
- Reassure them that you’re there for them
- If your child acknowledges that they need help, encourage them to see their GP as soon as possible and offer to go with them if they would find it helpful
- If your child tells you nothing is wrong, reassure them that you are there for them, and keep a close eye on them. Remember that your child may be ill even if they do not realise it themselves – denial that there is a problem is common, particularly in the case of anorexia. Trust your instincts
- If your child doesn’t open up straight away don’t feel hurt or upset. Try to talk to your child another time
Some other things you can do which you might find helpful:
- Learn as much as you can about eating difficulties
- Show love, empathy and support
- Don’t blame or judge them
- Try to avoid talking about appearances / weight
- Encourage positive time with family and friends
- Concentrate on how they are feeling
- Be a good role model
- Have resources that you can refer to and give to them
Support and advice for you
It can be very hard to take that first step and to speak to someone for advice, but there are lots of ways you can do this:
- Speak to your GP or nurse at your surgery
- Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know on the telephone, rather than face to face. Beat Eating Disorders has a Helpline available 365 days of the year.
Understanding that you are not alone is really important, and there are a lot of groups around where you can talk to people who have shared experience of supporting a child with an eating disorder.
Young Minds, a leading UK charity for young people and their mental health.
You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity ‘Beat’ by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677