the holidays can be tough when your child suffers from an eating disorder. let us try to help!
Why can holidays be a challenging time for people with eating disorders?
They are painfully difficult for people with eating disorders for several reasons. This is a time of year of higher stress anyway, as the holidays are about family, emotion and high levels of connection. This means food is everywhere and is at the center of connection. People are worried about their family members commenting on their weight or assessing their food intake. They are greatly worried about eating foods they did not prepare and therefore lacking the control of what is in them. There is a lot of diet talk around the table, but also in the media. These and other issues create anticipatory stress for the person with the eating disorder. Some common concerns are fearing weight gain and a sense of lacking control around the food. People with eating disorders might also be scared that others will find out about their eating disorders during the holidays since eating is more central to the holiday experience.
What are some tips for helping your child cope with an eating disorder during the holidays?
Help your child navigate the family process.. Tell your family members to limit any food or diet talk. Tell your family to not discuss or many comments about your child's body for good or bad - perceived compliments are often not helpful either, as the eating disorder will twist the connotation and hear most things as "I'm fat," or "I've gained a lot of weight," or whatever it is.
How can parents set boundaries with other family members who might be present?
Remember you own your home - you can set boundaries.I know many families who simply say their home is a diet-free zone so no diet talk is allowed.
What are some resources you can suggest for parents who are coping with this alongside their child?
Get ahead of the game - be proactive not reactive. Discuss a plan with your child and your family. Have a coping plan for your child if they become overwhelmed. Consider how to incorporate their mealplan into the day. Perhaps you make their plate instead of them feeling overwhelmed. Work as a team so your child knows you are there to support. You can also limit the amount of places you go to where eating is involved, this is especially helpful if your child is at the beginning stages of recovery and is very overwhelmed. Finally - these are deadly disorders. Take them seriously and do not believe your child will 'grow out of this' - eating disorders a not a phase. This is the time to get help so involve a professional team immediately, as that is associated with long-term better outcomes.
OK parents, I feel for you on this one. Your adorable little child that used to want to know what you thought the best costume was, used to have you help them getting ready to go out and collect giant heaps of candy. They were adorable little ghosts, superheroes or cartoon characters. Suddenly, they are teens and everything has changed. If you haven't already had to have this convo, it might be one you will someday. I was recently asked to contribute Parents Magazine about teens wanting sexy halloween costumes and how to manage these conversations. The article is fantastic and I highly recommend you read it fully. Below is my expanded thoughts on the topic.
What if I totally disagree with a sexy halloween costume???
I think in today's times this is an awesome opportunity to have a loving and open conversation with your teens that provides a sense of you aligning with them and supporting them for the remainder of their teen years into adulthood. If you see them wanting to get one of those costumes and you disagree as a parent, first i would probably validate their feelings. Remember the old movie Mean Girls and the halloween party scene? This has been a thing for a long time and there's nothing to be ashamed of. I would encourage your teen to talk about why they want to wear a certain costume and what they are hoping to get from it. You might find them opening up deep concerns of not feeling good enough, or needing validation of worth from others, or just a sense of fitting in. Those are all very important things and normal things teens want to feel. Hopefully, you have laid the foundation of other times you have talked about self-esteem and validation.
So what does a parent actually do?!
You can then validate their feelings and say "of course those things are normal, and I totally wanted the same thing when I was your age." You can ask them what else they might communicating to others by wearing a particular outfit - I don't mean to send a message that a flirtatious costume means a person is asking for something bad to happen because that is not correct. What I do mean is that we might be sending a message that we are looking for external attention in a negative place and is that the message your teen wants to be sending. The key here is creating curiosity and openness, not shame for wanting attention or for showing one's body. WHat are other messages do they want to send into the world about themselves and their personalities - is it that they are fun? Creative? Exciting? What about using the Halloween holiday as a time to express those things and to enjoy being a teen. I think the main things here are to really lean in with understanding and to connect with your teen during these challenging times of wanting to fit in. Tell them you really do support them and that's why you want them to be able to enjoy this time in their lives of fun and freedom, as there is time to make more grown up decisions about how they feel about these same things in the future. If they want to still dress in a particular costume when they are no longer a child, then that is their ability to do so and you will support their adult choices at that time because they will be equipped emotionally to see the whole picture. Ensure that any choices you make as a parent are to provide them with safety and ability to have a live a life of freedom, not emprisonment, since that is what teens may think the motivation is. Let them know it is your job as a parent to help them reinforce healthy boundaries until they are ready to take the reins when they are adults. Your teen might hate you until they are 25 (kidding, not kidding!), but eventually they'll probably understand you were trying to protect them until they are adults who can make healthy decisions for themselves.
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