For any parent, talking to your adolescent child about difficult topics like anorexia nervosa is challenging. There may be tears, failure to cooperate, or shouting. However, these difficult conversations are also essential – anorexia nervosa is a deadly mental health disorder and needs treatment. Typically, the first people to become aware of an adolescent beginning to show signs of anorexia nervosa are their parents, although their friends and people at school may see some symptoms hidden from the parents.
When encouraging a teen to learn more about the need for anorexia nervosa treatment, parents might fear the conversation will devolve into bickering and accusations. However, this is completely avoidable if the parents take the time to mentally prepare for a difficult conversation about admitting that disordered behaviors are present and what next steps can be taken. To help parents and loved ones begin this vital conversation, we’ve highlighted a few tips below.
5 Essential Tips for Talking to Teens About Anorexia Nervosa Recovery
1. Educate Yourself
Especially if they’re in denial or hiding their behaviors out of instinct, teens might now know how severe an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa can be. Parents can gather resources that will help them how an eating disorder can affect the body and cognition, and hinder a person’s life for years. This will help the adolescent to comprehend what they’ve been experiencing and learn more about the benefits of early intervention. Materials and talking points about going into a residential or outpatient facility are usually available from eating disorder treatment centers or your doctor. There are also specialized treatment centers only for adolescents.
2. Make Sure You Express Concern and Do Not Judge
Make sure you have chosen an appropriate time to speak with your son or daughter. Begin the conversation in a private space when there is enough time to dive deep into the conversation. Parents should approach the subject of anorexia nervosa treatment in a caring and non-confrontational manner. You should make sure to express your concern without making accusatory statements. With the materials you’ve prepared, you should be able to say exactly why you are worried.
3. Listen Carefully
This is perhaps the most important step in the entire process.Often, parents will want to lecture and dominate the time talking about their worries and concerns, but listening is much more important. Give your son or daughter plenty of time to respond to any concerns that have been presented. While you’re listening, don’t make faces or try to interrupt. Face the teen and maintain eye contact, with an open posture. You can use phrases like “I hear you,” and ask follow-up questions, to make sure they feel heard. That will encourage them to open up more.
4. Encourage a Back-and-Forth
When replying to your son or daughter, summarize everything they’ve said. When they confirm, you can ask them to move on to the next topic or further explain something you didn’t quite understand. Parents should once again restate their concerns and explain that anorexia nervosa treatment is essential for long-term recovery, but make sure you’re replying to what they’ve said rather than simply plowing on to the next point you wanted to make.
Parents should also work hard to use “I” statements instead of using “you” language. For example “I am concerned about your health because you often refuse to eat meals.” Avoid placing blame or using accusatory language with blank statements like, “You need to start…”
5. Wrap Up With the Next Step in Mind
Parents should have an idea what their preferred next step will be following this conversation, whether that be searching for anorexia treatment centers or even just making a doctor’s appointment, before beginning the conversation. If the conversation goes well, the adolescent might be ready to take the next step. It’s worth pre-planning by identifying a few treatment facilities that focus on adolescent care with their child. Offer to make an appointment with them and to accompany them for an initial consultation at multiple anorexia treatment centers if necessary.
Approaching such a sensitive subject can be very intimidating for most parents. But with the right set of tools and information behind them, this important conversation can end on a very positive note. Early intervention is an essential step in the anorexia nervosa recovery process, so parents should work hard to begin these conversations sooner rather than later.