Teen Talks: How to Approach the Topic of Eating Disorders

When your child’s wellness is affected by an eating disorder, the role you play is crucial to their overall wellbeing. However, this health concern often makes those affected by it withdrawn, touchy and even rude, so talking to your son or daughter about it can be difficult. Nonetheless, communication is vital when your child has an eating disorder. Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the charity beat, comments, ‘Everyone who recovers from an eating disorder tells us how important it was to have unconditional love and support from those who care about them, even when they knew their behaviour was quite difficult to understand.’ So, how do you approach this delicate situation?


It can be very difficult to talk to your child about their condition, particularly in the case of children who don’t understand that they have a problem. Still, it’s important to keep trying as communication is so essential to help with recovery. According to Susan Ringwood, when you want to speak with your child directly about their eating disorder, you first need to plan what you’re going to say. A little background research can be helpful with this, as learning as much as possible about eating disorders will help you to understand what you’re dealing with.


When you’re having the conversation with your child, concentrate on how they’re feeling rather than their appearance or other people’s diets and weight problems. Although you may wish to compliment your child, it’s better to focus on other ways to build their confidence, such as their personality or achievements at school. If your child doesn’t open up to you straight away, try not to feel hurt or resent your child for being secretive. This has nothing to do with their relationship with you and everything to do with their illness.


One way you can encourage your child to be open with you is to be honest with them about your own feelings. The reasons and emotions behind an eating disorder are complicated, and so your child may have difficulties in expressing them. Try to remember this when talking to your child and patiently listen to what they’re trying to say. Throughout the conversation, you need to remain calm, even if dealing with a negative response from your child. In fact, you should be prepared for negativity, whether that’s from a refusal to open up or an out-and-out attack against you. Through all this, don’t blame or judge your child but, instead, emphasise that you love them and will always be there for them, no matter what.


It’s helpful to have resources to refer to, both during the talks you have with your child and when looking for ways to move forward. There is a range of professional help available, so make sure you let your child know this, as well as the fact that you’ll support them through it when they’re ready. You can point out positive activities they could be involved in that don’t involve food, such as hobbies and days out with friends, but the most important thing is to ask your child what you can do to help, as they may already have an idea of what they need from you. Recovery from anything is always difficult, but this is even more the case when you have to do it alone. This is why your child needs to know that you’re in it with them, both through your words and actions – especially through being a good role model who eats a balanced diet and takes a healthy amount of exercise.

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