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Parenting Tips for Helping Your Child With Anorexia
In the winter of 2017, a debilitating illness, anorexia nervosa, tore my daughter’s life apart. The battle against this disease is intense and requires all the mental, emotional, physical and social resources a family can muster. Although my daughter’s illness was probably in her mind and body for several months before her diagnosis, when the illness took over her body, it was relentless in its pursuit of taking her life, literally.
First, every child/person/patient is different and you need to be attuned to what your child needs individually. On the other hand, this disease is strikingly similar in all patients and this is because it IS a disease with a disease pattern and specific etiology. So the first step is to recognize that this is a real disease, as serious as cancer. Get professional help from a doctor who specializes in eating disorders as soon as possible. Early intervention can be the difference between a one-year recovery period or a two- to three-year recovery period.
Second, realize that this disease developed over a longer period of time than you realize, so recovery will take just as long. You and your family are in for the long haul. This process will likely consume all of your immediate family’s collective time and energy for at least several months to a year or two or more. Your main job for the first few months is simply to support your child’s feeding again. You may not have the time or energy to do anything else. Like feeding a newborn, this can be a round-the-clock job.
Third, recognize that the battle against this disease is intense and requires all of the family’s mental, emotional, physical, and social resources. The best defense is to enlist the help of a doctor, a counselor and a nutritionist. Your child will likely also need a child psychiatrist, as there are certain medications that are helpful in treating co-occurring disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. At one point in my daughter’s recovery, we were taking her to four different appointments a week just to keep up with the intense needs of fighting this disease.
Fourth, if one intervention doesn’t work after a few months, try something else. During my daughter’s recovery time, she first went to a partial hospitalization program (for 3 months). After 6 weeks at home, she relapsed and entered an inpatient program (for 1 month). Rather than returning to a partial inpatient program (which is the recommended inpatient discharge), we choose to implement an intensive, modified Maudsley approach at home. I took partial family medical leave for about 9 months during that time. When we used the Maudsley approach at home, either my husband or I ate every meal with her.
Fifth, if there are two parents or caregivers in the family, always present a united front. Your daily routines with your daughter or son should be unified. The anorexic mind will look for any opportunity it can to find any ambiguity in your system. Together, you should both be diligent about encouraging your child to eat and rest. Be supportive of your child and each other.
Sixth, be willing to let go of old family habits, even good ones. Our family took pride in our daily family dinners around the kitchen table where we shared our day. With our daughter’s anorexic mind, this custom became impossible. As long as she was afraid to eat, we had to find ways to distract her. Comedy TV shows worked. At one point in our lives, we scoffed at the idea of having family dinners in front of the TV, and now every meal requires us to watch about three episodes of comedy TV shows, including Seinfeld and The Office. However, this new custom helped our daughter smile and finally relax enough to eat her meals.
Finally, if you find a food or food group that he will eat. let them eat it as much as they want, even if it doesn’t include a balanced meal. At one point, our daughter lived on peanut butter and bananas. In our house, we probably went through several jars a week, but clearly her body and brain needed this type of nutrition and she was willing to eat it.
Get support from family, friends, church or other spiritual group. I will share more tips and information in my next article.
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