How to Support Your Child’s Eating Disorder Recovery throughout the Corona Virus Self-Quarantine
Eating disorders live and thrive in isolation and secrecy. Many individuals who struggle with eating disorders also suffer from anxiety and depression, live with PTSD and struggle with relationships. This time of self-quarantine can be very challenging for everyone but especially for those who struggle with their mental health allowing ED to get louder.
As we are facing a global health and economic crisis, we are faced with generalized stress and uncertainty. Emotions are running high and food can become a way to find comfort, control, and cope with emotions, so is restriction. Staying at home allows the opportunity to observe your child’s behaviors around food, family, and their bodies. You might observe that they are avoiding eating with the family or relaying on snacks and not completing meals, restricting to eat later comfort foods, binging, eating in isolation, doing body checkings, or over exercising. Observe and log this information. If your child is working with a team reach out to them to determine the best way to talk to your child and support her or him at this time. This is not the time to start arguments at home but it is the time to connect food to feelings and the importance of support and accountability in recovery.
Spending so much time together during this period of self-isolation can trigger also conflict and negative thinking. If your child is acting out on symptoms that seemed resolved or is losing weight rapidly, it is a good idea to reconnect to their therapist and nutritional counselor to schedule a follow up session. Most health care professionals are offering teletherapy and treatment centers are offering in person residential treatment and virtual day and IOP treatment, virtual support groups and other helpful resources.
Although this time trying time can be especially challenging when you have a child who struggles with mental health, there are some things you can do to improve your connection with your child during this time:
1. Manage your own anxiety about the current situation, your child’s recovery, and model self-regulation. Anxiety runs in families, partly due to the genetics and partly due to the modeling that takes place between parents and children. Kids do learn through observation and based their perception and feelings about a situation on their parents’ emotions. Therefore, if you are anxious about the virus and your child’s recovery, chances are your child is getting the message and feeling that way, too. You can get support on Facebook closed groups for parents who have children who struggle with eating disorders and you reach out to your child’s treatment team for advise. By managing your own anxiety, you are modeling that it is OK to feel nervous and reach out for support. This is the time to make space for reassurance and hope!
2. Have family meals. It is hard to keep up with our normal schedule during this time. We are waking up at a different time and meals might be disrupted. Support your child by creating together a realistic schedule for the quarantine. Set times for meals and create some topics for conversation at the table that can be fun. Meal time can also be the time to connect and check in. Avoid engaging in sad or stressful news, food struggles and complaints, diet and weight related topics, and personal questions that can be triggering. Keep meal time light and enjoyable.
3. Practice talking about feelings. During self- isolation, create opportunities to check in with your child about how she or he is feeling about uncertainty, the virus, self-quarantine anxiety, virtual classes, having you home all the time, etc. Practice just listening carefully to what your child says and clarify information by providing a summary and asking to provide more details if needed so you can understand him or her better. Ask your child where he or she experiences those feelings in their body and ask if you can provide support and the best way to do so. Normalizing talking about emotions helps increase connection and family cohesion.
4. Practice compassion. This pandemic has been a new experience for all of us. Use these trying times as an opportunity to teach your child about the importance of being kind, loving and serving others by staying at home and using healthy prevention practices. Staying in touch with friends and family can be a way to fight isolation and a sense of disconnection from others. Together, you can explore ideas on how to show compassion to each other at home and practice self-compassion. You can also identify causes to support online at this time. This is a global pandemic and there are many ways to help!
5. Practice gratitude. If you are healthy, have supplies and a place to stay, you are lucky. Cultivating the habit of being grateful for every good thing that you have and take for granted makes us more aware of the good in our lives. It also counteracts negative, catastrophic thinking. Gratitude helps to improve your mood, increases your sense of well-being, and helps you to stay grounded. You can create a daily gratitude practice by starting a list together or going around the table during meal times sharing one thing that you are grateful for.
6. Set healthy boundaries. Discuss with your child spending time together and apart, expectations during the quarantine and ways to let each other know that you need a break. Sharing space can be challenging, identify ways to take turns and show respect for each other need of time and space. Setting boundaries is a form of self-care, tends to reduce stress and increase resilience.
7. Communicate effectively. A big part of healthy communication is listening. This means listening without interrupting and avoiding commenting and providing opinions. Just affirm you’re listening by maintaining your attention on your child with eye contact and nodding. This is away to show your child that you are interested and understanding what they are saying. You can also encourage them to talk more by saying “tell me more”, “help me understand”. Be clear in what you expect from your child in terms of chores, school work, leisure time, and identify what’s OK and not OK to do during the quarantine. Clarity decreases anxiety and conflict!
8. Be patient and kind. This is a very difficult time for everyone. Talk about ways to increase kindness and compassion with yourselves and other family members, extended family also in quarantine, and neighbors. Remembering that we are all in this together is a way to feel less alone and disconnected. How you deal with stress and family dynamics will make a difference in your child’s recovery as well as how they practice expressing their emotions and dealing with stressful situations. You do not need to have the perfect answer or the perfect response for everything. You just need to be emotionally available, open and supportive.
9. Talk about the things that we can vs. the things that we cannot control. Talk to your child about what we can control (i.e. washing hands, staying at home, participating in family activities, sharing emotions, working on recovery, meeting with treatment team online, practicing being flexible) and what we can’t control (i.e. getting sick, special events being cancelled, not being able to see friends in person and go to places they enjoy, etc.). Fear often comes from feeling out-of-control. ED then sees this as an opportunity to provide a sense of false control. Knowing that we have some control over a situation helps us feel empowered and calmer.
10. Recovery is not cancelled. It is important to continue working hard on recovery by eating meals regularly, attending virtual appointments with their treatment team, completing homework, attending a virtual support group and practicing being open and talking about emotions. If your child is struggling and unable to continue working on their recovery, please contact their treatment team and address your concerns. Treatment centers are still open and ready to provide additional support via telehealth through their day treatment and intensive outpatient programs or in person if your child requires residential treatment.
Whether your child is in recovery, struggling, slipping back, or refusing help, they need to see you acting from
a place of love and connection, practicing the values that you are teaching them, and encouraging them to recommit to their recovery. You need to be their champion and role model healthy behaviors and emotional regulation. The unknown can be scary, but it can serve as a great opportunity to teach your child that recovery comes firsts and you are there unconditionally to support them. For more information about my services and therapy for eating disorder recovery in children, teens and adults, please contact me directly at 561.305.2497 or email me at email@example.com. I will provide a FREE phone consultation! Online therapy services are available in English and Spanish. Help and hope are always available!