What to do when your child won’t engage with eating disorder treatment

No parent wants to see their child suffer. You do everything you possibly can to protect them and keep them safe. And then your family is hit with the news that your child has an eating disorder. You feel all the emotions. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Fear. Then you rally. You commit yourself 100% to helping your child recover from their eating disorder

But when your child has an eating disorder, recovery doesn’t follow a straight line. As committed as you are, there will be ups and downs along the road, some easier to navigate than others.

What if one of those challenges is that your child won’t engage in their eating disorder treatment? If you’re in that position, we share some tips based on our experience of how to help your child with their eating disorder recovery.

Understand your role in recovery

As much as you love your child and want to remove their pain, that’s not your role in recovery.

Understanding how to help someone with an eating disorder is about understanding your role in treatment and recovery.

Your child needs your support. They need you to advocate for them and to be vulnerable alongside them. Education is one of the most powerful tools you have. The more you understand the eating disorder and the way treatment works, the better you can support your child. And the better you can respect the boundary between your role and theirs in the treatment process.

Focus on the person, not the eating disorder

Focus on the person, not the eating disorder

You can’t control the process, no matter how hard you try. What you can control is your knowledge and your responses. You can continue to play your role in your child’s treatment plan. You can see the person they are and not just their eating disorder.

Eating disorders can be all-consuming but you also need to talk about things other than treatment. Power struggles are unhealthy and there are no winners. Sometimes, recovery free time can make all the difference.

The road to recovery is made up of many little steps along the way. The goal isn’t perfection, but rather progress. 

Listen with compassion

You know that treatment is what your child needs. But you can tell them that until you’re blue in the face and it won’t make a drop of difference. What can you do instead? Listen. 

Ask your child how they’re feeling and what you can do to help. When they tell you, listen with compassion and without judgement. This isn’t always easy. You may feel frustrated and that’s normal when you’re on the emotional roller coaster that is eating disorder recovery.

Listen. Validate their feelings. Keep the conversation open and honest. This is what you need to help re-engage them in their treatment. 

Safety first

Have a safety plan in place for your loved one’s medical, physical and psychological wellbeing and safety.  This safety plan may be prepared in collaboration with you, your loved one, their GP, psychologist or another member of the medical care team.

A safety plan involves non negotiable treatment requirements or behavioural boundaries for the safety of your loved one and their family members.  If your loved one’s eating disorder symptoms and behaviours are of concern, the safety plan will ensure that there is a procedure to follow to keep them safe.

A safety plan may include steps to take if and when your loved one self-harms, experiences suicidal ideation, severe restriction and/or purging, dizziness, lethargy, psychosis, dissociation, dysregulation or other serious medical concern.

Take care of yourself

Supporting your child through eating disorder recovery requires you to draw on strength you probably don’t even realise you have. If your child isn’t engaging in their treatment, this calls on your strength even more. It can feel like an uphill battle.

At the end of the day, if you don’t look after yourself, how can you look after your child? Self care for carers is incredibly important. Stepping back from a situation, even if it’s just to go on a 15 minute walk can give you clarity and help to reset your emotions. 

Looking after yourself isn’t selfish. It’s absolutely necessary.

We’re here to support you

EDFA was founded by people who have been where you are now. We have supported our children through eating disorder treatment. And now we’re here to support you while you do the same.

Learn more about EDFA and the resources available to help you navigate the road to recovery.