Last week I did a blog post where I gave advice on how to tell your parents that you have an eating disorder. This week I wanted to write to give advice to parents/guardians on what they should do if their child tells them that they are struggling with an eating disorder, as I have seen many articles discussing how to get your child help but not many on what to do or how to handle the first few hours/days of finding out and I know the first thing many people will do in this situation is turn to google for help.
In some cases a parent/guardian may have some kind of inkling that something is going on, however eating disorders can be a very secretive mental illness and people struggling with them can go to extremes to keep it hidden so when the secret is finally revealed it can come as a shock. Hopefully some of the things I discuss in this post can help you in that situation.
The first thing I would want to advise is to try your best to stay calm. They are coming to you for support and it will have taken them a lot to work up the courage to open up to you. I know it can come as a huge shock but please do not react in a way that shows them that you may doubt them as that can trigger the eating disorder.
DO NOT MAKE COMMENTS ABOUT THEIR SIZE OR WEIGHT! I can not express this enough!! Do not say but you eat this or I have seen you eat that. Don’t say but you’re a size. Do not say why? and compliment their body… JUST DO NOT TRY TO UNDERMINE THEM OR BRING UP ANYTHING TO DO WITH WEIGHT. If you do so you will push them further into it. Treat them as if you believe what they are saying even if you have doubts as its better to be safe than sorry.
Tell them that you will support them and that you will get them the help that they deserve. Express how much you care about them and tell them that you will be there every step of the way. Say that you will make an appointment with a doctor and do some research of your own on how is best to deal with your child’s situation (on the helpline page of this website there are links to charities who all have very useful information).
If they want to be more open with you and discuss things they may have been doing behind your back please be grateful that they are willing to let you in. This is a good sign, it means they may have hit their breaking point and have realised they need help. They are taking the power away from the eating disorder by revealing all its secrets, it can mean that they want you to be aware when they are struggling with the eating disorder thoughts so that you can help them to not use certain behaviours. If your child isn’t being completely open with you that is ok too, the main thing is that they have asked for help. Don’t push them into telling you every detail as it can just build their wall up more, let them come to you in their own time. Just keep reminding them that you are there when they want to talk and that you will get them professional help.
Ask them what you can do to help. Some people need to be distracted for example when I was struggling with the thoughts that came after eating my mum would take me out for a walk so that 1. I couldn’t run off to the toilet 2. It was something to distract my mind from the disordered thoughts. Others may need space, which I know if you’re parent who has just found out this information you will want to be near them all the time to watch what they are doing but the person with the eating disorder can find it suffocating and it will probably make them irritable and more likely to push you away, the will come to you in their own time, just be more aware of the signs so that you can tell when they are struggling and then you will know when to put distractions in place without making them feel suffocated.
Most importantly get them the help. Ring a doctor and call a helpline for more advice. The sooner you get them the help the better. Also if you are struggling yourself after finding out this information whether that be feeling depressed yourself or just wanting to learn more about how to handle the situation there are parents and carers group that you can ask the doctor about. My mum went to a parents/carers group and I think that it really helped her and maybe one day I can ask her to write a post about that to give some more information but for now ask the doctor if there is any help for you available.
If you need anymore advice or details please feel free to message me on my instagram account and I will be more than happy to help. Remember that I am only speaking from my own experience and it is really important that you contact a medical professional.