Eating disorders are quite common in children and adolescents. In a study done in the US, 5% of adolescent girls were shown to have criteria for an eating disorder. That’s why it’s essential to act fast and work to prevent the development of these disorders in our children.
Helping your child develop healthy mental habits can increase their resilience, deter mental illnesses, and show them that we care. Read on to learn more about exactly how you can prevent an eating disorder in your child.
Promote Positive Body Talk
Children learn best from example. That’s why it’s imperative for you to lead them with a positive example. The best way to do this is by showing them that you love yourself, even if you don’t.
You can do this by saying positive things about your body, like:
- I love my belly
- I love my nose; it’s so unique
- We have the coolest freckles
- My arm hair is so dark and beautiful
- I love my bony knees
Start this habit young and show your child how your bodies are similar. For example, if your adolescent grows up with dark hair on their arms, too, tell them how beautiful it is and that it comes from your cultural heritage.
Always show your children that you love who you are and that it’s okay to feel comfortable in your body, even if it doesn’t look like what they see on social media or on the TV.
Don’t Associate Negativity to Food
It’s imperative that you do not associate any food items with a negative trait. Even if it is unhealthy for your child to eat tons of sweets in one sitting, you do not need to phrase it like “sweets are bad.”
Instead, you’ll want to monitor your child’s eating yourself and let them know that sweets are a treat for special occasions. Some more negative food talk you’ll want to cut out of your dialogue include:
- “That’s a bad food.”
- “You’ll get fat if you eat that.”
- “You need to watch your weight.”
- “You should only eat healthy food.”
- “That’s disgusting.”
Instead, teach kids how the ingredients in food all have different effects on your body. Sugar can make you hyperactive, carbs can make you feel fuller, and fruits and vegetables have important vitamins that make us feel strong.
Get Help From a Therapist
If you’re noticing any early warning signs in your child for an eating disorder or body dysmorphia, you’ll want to speak to a professional. Some early symptoms your child may be experiencing an eating disorder include:
- Frequent checking of the body
- Frequent negative self-talk about the body
- Refusing meals more often
- Counting calories
- Weighing themselves daily
A trained child or adolescent therapist can help your child work through these feelings, and you can come up with a treatment plan.
Even if your child doesn’t show signs of an eating disorder, a therapist is simply a tool to help them learn communication, mental health skills, and coping skills. Anyone can utilize a therapist to help them learn more about their mental health. You don’t need to see a therapist only when you’re struggling. In fact, it’s an excellent prevention method.
Some therapists, like art therapists, are great for children who may struggle with verbal communication.
Communicate With Your Child/ren
As the parent, it’s your duty to communicate with your child about everything they may come across in the world. Society is quickly evolving to add more and more technology into the mix of everyone’s lives. Your child will most likely come across other children who talk negatively about their bodies.
It’s essential to address the way that others may experience life. Tell your child that other kids may make fun of them, but it doesn’t mean they are right.
You can give your child educational materials such as videos or books about their body, puberty, and bullying. These materials can help them understand the world around them a little better. Always tell your child how their home is their safe space and that they’ll never be judged or hurt under your roof.
Always stress how important it is for you to be there to support them, as well. You want your children to feel like you are their advocate if they do run into negative body image issues in the real world.
Now that you know how to help your child avoid an eating disorder, read more on eating disorders on BetterHelp’s advice column here: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/eating-disorders/. The first step in helping your child is being educated yourself.