School support: a checklist for parents of a child with an eating disorder

School support: checklist for parents

Teamwork between parents and teachers helps children with eating disorders benefit from school.

I imagine that staff in schools all over the world have a desire to contribute to a child and a family’s wellbeing. If this is not what you’re seeing, the key to removing obstacles is communication. Engage key teachers in understanding the issues and priorities for your child. Discuss how they can support her with study, friends and eating.

Of course, it might not be right for your child to be in school at all, and I discuss this in my book.
But let’s assume your child is reasonably well, and would benefit from being in school if the right support was in place.
It’s time for an in-depth discussion with the Head, the relevant teachers and support teachers.

In case you’re feeling stressed, here is a checklist of points you might like to raise.

Mending the relationship after a bust-up

Does your child act totally out of character when he or she is worried about food? Have you been screamed at, or kicked? Have you had a plate of pasta tipped onto your lap in a restaurant? Has your child run away?

After a highly charged event when your child (and perhaps yourself) have been very reactive, you could choose to initiate dialogue. The idea is to take care of yourself (because you’re hurt), your child (because he or she needs safety and understanding) and your relationship. You might also be looking for solutions or agreements so that whatever happened won’t happen again.

Here’s some help to do that.

Psychotherapy approaches: which might help?

There are a huge number of psychotherapy methods out there. It’s helpful for us parents to know a little about them, both so we can assess what’s being offered to our kids and so we can find something for ourselves.

In my book I explain how psychotherapy is not a first line of treatment for anorexia in children and adolescents, and how (as in Family-Based Treatment (FBT or ‘Maudsley’) it may not be needed at all. However, it is often offered, and you will have to judge if that is appropriate or not, depending on the stage your child is at in treatment, or depending on what you’re needing for yourself.

I’ll share what I know about some of the methods, and hope it helps you in your own search.

Eating disorders: understand where psychotherapists are coming from

Many psychotherapists’ training places great importance in finding the ‘underlying causes’ of patients’ problems. If their approach is relational or psychodynamic (founded on psychoanalysis), their model is that in order to get better, the patient needs insight: ‘What caused my problem?’ And if you ignore causes, even causes from your earliest childhood, your problems will spill out in other domains.

For a clinical psychologist who hasn’t specialised in eating disorders, it is counter-intuitive to ignore early childhood or family dynamics.

Don’t beat up your child (or yourself) for failing in spite of therapy

Anyone who engages with psychotherapy is showing courage and willingness to make changes and take risks. The greater the changes, the more we’re likely to stumble and fail for a while. It takes time to use new tools. I make a plea to all families to be patient with the process and to resist criticising and lecturing every time the person having therapy fails to apply it. ‘Stop shouting and do your bloody CBT!’ isn’t going to work.

You yourself may be trying to apply some of what you’ve read here.

Internal conflict: self-compassion and how to mediate arguments in your brain

The challenges of supporting a child suffering from an eating disorder often take us to our very limits. It’s normal for us parents to have a huge lot of regrets.

If you’re finding it hard to disentangle yourself from blame and shame, or if you’re getting eaten up by thoughts of what you could have done better, try this self-compassion and acceptance exercise.
The idea is to get two conflicting parts of your mind to talk to each other in order to come to a peaceful resolution.