Advice by Kaela: Our Child's Eating Disorder Affects Our Whole Family
By Kaela Scott
Question: Our child’s eating disorder affects our whole family. How do I ensure that it doesn’t take too much attention away from our other children?
Answer: Eating disorders are all consuming disorders and have an impact on everyone who is connected to the person suffering. The eating disorder demands a lot of time, energy and support from the family as a whole and can throw the family’s rhythm out of sync, leaving everyone feeling out of balance. Here are a few ideas of how best to support your whole family (including yourself) as you work through your child’s disorders.
- Try as best you can to maintain a schedule and routine: If you didn’t have a routine beforehand now is the time to create one. If you had one, be prepared for it to change somewhat (likely with added appointments, meal time challenges etc) but try to stick to what you can. There will be lots of things that feel and appear out of control while you go through this. Having a routine and sticking to it as best as possible creates predictability which will help you and every family member feel less anxious and safe.
- Create check in times for everyone: When someone struggles with an eating disorder a lot of time and attention gets focused on him or her, sometimes at the cost of other family members. While it is normal for parents to focus on their compromised child, it is important that they make time to check in with each person. What this can look like is that once a week each parent tries to spend even just 15 minutes with each child and with each other (if you are married). Often one parent in particular gets pulled into the main supporting role and the other kids can miss the involvement of that parent in their lives. Taking time each week to focus on each child independently can go a long way, even if the child doesn’t ask for it. Be as present as possible in these moments and don’t be afraid to ask how the child is really doing.
- Plan things as a family: This one can be the most difficult because there are typically times when the child who is struggling doesn’t want to participate in family activities. I think it is important to try to create cohesiveness as much as possible in times of stress and overwhelm. As much as possible try to make these activities not based around eating disorder struggles (exercising together, cooking together etc) but rather just about family engagement (board games, movie night etc).
- Follow Through: If there are things you say you are going to do, then do them. When someone is struggling with an eating disorder things can change on a moment-to-moment basis. This is normal and we have to learn to role with the punches. That being said, if you make commitments whether that be to your kids, your partner or yourself, honour them as best as possible.
- Be Aware Of The Impact For Years To Come: Children are very perceptive of what is going on around them. If they can sense that the house is filled with stress, it is normal for them to not want to add to the stress (even though that isn’t healthy or expected of them). Sometimes it is years later that they try to talk to you about what that experience was like for them and it is important that you take the time to listen. It isn’t that they need you to fix it for them but rather that they just need to have their voice heard. If things come up years later, take it as a positive sign that they are working on their own healing and wanting you to be a part of that journey.
Eating Disorders really do affect the family as a whole and even being concerned about how to make sure all family members are looked after during this difficult times means you are doing a great job.
Kaela Scott is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She runs her own private practice and works with the Looking Glass Foundation in both their summer camp and their Hand In Hand Program. She has been passionate about working with eating disorders since freeing herself from her own struggle and realizing what it is like to be happy and well. When she isn’t working, you can find Kaela either cozying up with a cup of tea and her friends or up in the mountains going for a hike.