Proud2Bme | What Not to Say: Your Child in Recovery

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What Not to Say: Your Child in Recovery

By Kaitlyn Oberg--Recovery from mental illness is tough for everyone involved, from the affected individual to the entire family.  Support for eating disorders can often be costly or not comprehensive, putting an even greater strain on those supporting recovering individuals, particularly on parents.

Considering parents are responsible for the care of their children, a painful dichotomy exists between making sure a child is safe and letting him or her find their own way in recovery. As a parent, knowing what to say to a child with an eating disorder can be difficult, frustrating, and scary.

No recovery is identical to another, so it’s important to take these tips with a grain of salt and consider your child’s place in the recovery process. That said, here are some subjects which you might want to avoid when talking to your recovering child.

We paid so much for you to get better. Why are you still like this?

It can be aggravating to put time and effort into your child’s recovery and see no or slow progress. It is important to remember that your child did not just wake up one morning with an eating disorder- by that same virtue, he or she won’t wake up cured one morning either. It’s important to remain patient.

If you don’t eat this/go to therapy/stop x behavior immediately, you’re going to the hospital

Scare tactics have little to no place in treatment of any psychological behavior, including eating disorders. The use of scare tactics operates under the belief that the child is making these decisions consciously and rationally, and that they are able to “just stop” the behavior.

While staying healthy and out of treatment can be an incentive for some, for most it places an even greater amount of stress on the eating disordered individual- now not only are they trying to overcome a disorder to maintain stability, they have to worry about having their stability threatened by being placed in treatment.

Until you eat everything you’re supposed to, you’re not allowed to get up from the table

Children and teens with eating disorders are sometimes placed in a unique position because they are required to eat meals with family; considering eating disordered behavior often includes eating in secret, this can provoke even more anxiety. To put it simply: if it didn’t work when your child was a toddler, it most definitely won’t work now.

One method that can be beneficial in talking with your child is using some components of the “CHANGE” model from motivational interviewing:

Check your child’s perspective

Hear what they’re trying to say

Avoid “righting” or fixing

Note your child’s priorities

Give feedback, only with permission

End with a summary

While you may not need to “end with a summary,” the first five letters of the model can be incredibly useful in talking with your child. Checking their perspective, noting their priorities, and hearing what they have to say is invaluable in gaining insight into what your child is going through and maybe hearing a perspective you have yet to consider.

Also, by avoiding righting or giving unsolicited feedback, you enable your child to trust you more. By using this model, a parent can really allow their child to lead the discussion and divulge more information based on trust.

Opening the communication lines to a child with an eating disorder can be tricky, but with patience, compassion, and open ears, parents can hopefully begin to better understand their children in order to better help them in their recovery.

About the author: Kaitlyn is a freshman nursing major attending Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, with hopes to one day be a Public Health or Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. In her free time, you can find her wandering through Center City, watching Bob's Burgers, or with her nose in a John Green novel. 

Also by Kaitlyn:

Starting from Scratch: Temple University Activism

Like Mother, Like Daughter

For more on parents and EDs:

Recovery Dad and Recovery Girl

Real Experience, Real Advice: A Dad Shares His Tips for Parents

I'm Thankful My Mom Encouraged Healthy Body Image, Not Dieting

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