How parents can cope with their children

“My child refuses to eat, and is getting thinner and thinner… I feel helpless.”

As a clinical counselor and youth therapist at a Northern Health eating disorders clinic, I work with a lot of parents who are struggling to help a child affected by an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or compulsive eating. Families are often turned upside down when one of their own becomes seriously affected by a distorted body image.

Our society’s culture of thinness is evident everywhere, from a magazine cover highlighting the “latest diet” for losing unwanted pounds to the commercials and ads that tell us beauty is equivalent to thinness. More and more, we are seeing the tragic effects these images can have, especially for younger people.

We sometimes see children as young as 11 or 12 visiting our clinic for treatment. The results of an eating disorder can be deadly at worst… and physically, emotionally and socially damaging at best.

So how can parents support and cope with a child suffering from an eating disorder?

Many parents feel enormous guilt, shame and anxiety when they suspect, or have confirmed through assessment, that their child has an eating disorder.

At our clinic, one of our main tasks as a treatment team is not only to assess and treat the individual through various counseling sessions, but also to offer education and support to family members during the road to recovery.

We try to help families recognize that when an eating disorder invades a household, it is important to not let it have centre stage. The family unit needs to continue functioning. The person with the eating disorder should not have control over what the family is eating – just over their own individual choices.

Other coping strategies include:

? Asking your child “How can I support you. What do you need from me?”

? Avoiding power struggles over food and weight gain.

? Admitting your own feelings of frustration and fear of what the eating disorder is doing ? Examining your own attitudes towards body image, weight loss and chronic dieting, and how these might be affecting your child.

? Never force-feed. Your child will win and hold resentment.

? Learning about eating disorders and their complexities will help you cope through the times that are chaotic ? Understanding that it’s okay to not know all the answers ? Connecting with a local or provincial support group ? Seeking professional help for your child whether you think they will resent you or not

For more information about eating disorders, contact your local health unit or visit the and websites.

Anyone looking for help can also arrange for an appointment with Northern Health’s regional eating disorders clinic. If you think that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, private and confidential assessments are available. Clinic referrals can be made by calling toll free 1-866-565-2966.

Julie Dhaliwal

Clinical Counselor-Youth Therapist

Northern Health