Back-to-school is often an emotional experience for parents but even more so, perhaps, for parents of a child living with an eating disorder.
Whether your child is going to kindergarten for the first time, or is heading to college, it’s not easy knowing you no longer have full control over your child’s care.
For those who have a child living with an eating disorder, there are a lot more factors involved in the return back to school. These added stressors can understandably be quite anxiety-provoking.
How will my child handle the transition? Will they feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria? Will their studies and new relationships interrupt recovery progress? Can they continue toward their eating disorder recovery goals without our constant presence, support and coaching?
If you’re apprehensive about your child going back to school, you’re not alone. Here are some steps to take to help ensure continued eating disorder recovery success, and hopefully, ease some of your anxieties.
1. Set up a treatment team
It’s important to have an experienced and trusted healthcare team nearby. This is because they will be able to help problem-solve as triggers inevitably come up. Treatment teams typically consists of a nurse or doctor, a therapist specialized in treating eating disorders, a psychiatrist and/or a dietitian.
2. Ease into coursework
Your child is likely under a lot of stress, worrying how they will be able to do it all. If possible, talk to your child’s school about special provisions or accommodations. In college, maybe try taking less credits for the first couple of semesters back.
3. Identify a “support friend”
It is important that your child has a trusted ally in the school setting. A ‘support friend’ can help keep your child accountable, provide a listening ear and when it is appropriate, involve you if concerns arise.
4. Plan for extra family time
Scheduled family time is important in maintaining recovery. These experiences are great opportunities to check in on goals and keep practicing exposure meals. Normal adolescent autonomy is the goal, so with each recovery success, these scheduled sessions can be decreased as further motivation for continued success.
5. Encourage hobbies
It is important to help children build out their identity beyond their eating disorders. Whether they get involved in extracurricular activities like kickball or pottery, discovering – or rediscovering – hobbies is an empowering part of the recovery process. If any of these hobbies include physical activity, do make sure your child has proper medical clearance to participate.
My biggest piece of advice? Breathe.
Yes, this may be a difficult time but it is also a big (and positive!) part of the recovery journey. Taking the steps above should help make this a productive transition for both you and your child. Learn more about eating disorder treatment programs at Walden to help your child during their recovery journey.