Have a Conversation with your Child

  • Have a discussion about treatment with your child in a calm environment. Do not raise the topic while they are eating, as this is a time of increased stress for people with eating disorders.
  • Be curious. Listen intently and respectfully to what your child has to say.
  • Use “I’ statements, such as “I care about you,” and “I’m concerned about you.” Try not to place blame on your child for their illness by using statements like “You are making me worried,” or “You are putting stress on our family.”
  • Validate what your child is going through by using statements such as “It sounds like you are going through a lot,” and “It sounds like your eating disorder is making life really difficult right now.”

Help motivate your Child

  • Find things that motivate your child. Has your child been wanting to get a pet, borrow the car, or attend a party? You can assign contingencies to each of these privileges. For example, you might tell your child, “As long as you are participating in therapy, you can borrow the car,” or “As long as you are eating your meals and maintaining a healthy weight, you can participate in soccer.”
  • If you are financially supporting your adult child (e.g. paying for their phone bill, clothing, college tuition, etc.) you may make the decision to only continue paying for these items if the agree to take part in treatment for their eating disorder.
  • Link consequences to safety from their eating disorder. For example, if your child’s health is compromised due to their eating disorder, or if they are actively restricting, purging, or maintaining an insufficient body weight, it may be unsafe for them to participate in sports or drive a car.

Written by Dariya Smith, LMSW, CSW-I

Other Tips for Helping your Child

  • Keep in mind that denial of the disorder and avoidance of treatment are to be expected. These are a common part of most eating disorders. In addition, your child may be feeling shame, anxiety, and embarrassment about their eating disorder, which may make it difficult for them to seek help.
  • Remember that eating disorders are illnesses and are outside of your child’s control. Try to treat your child’s eating disorder the way you would treat any other medical illness. Insist that they receive treatment and try not to get angry with them or punish them for having an illness.
  • Dealing with a child’s eating disorder can be very stressful. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you may consider trying therapy yourself. Therapists who specialize in eating disorders will understand the unique challenges you face as the parent of a child with an eating disorder. Therapy can help you develop coping skills to deal with your stress and improve communication with your child.