Advice for parents and carers supporting children and young people with eating disorders

Last reviewed on 2 November 2020

If your child has an eating disorder, they might be finding things particularly difficult at the moment. They might feel more anxious and distressed about their health, weight, body image and not being able to socialise. Spending more time in the house with family might make them feel that their food behaviours and intake are ‘on show’ and that they are being scrutinised more than before.

For some young people, even those who have recovered, the anxiety about living in this uncertain situation might mean they return to eating disorder thoughts and behaviours as this gives them a sense of control.

Food shortages at the supermarkets, cancelled medical appointments and worry about how coronavirus might impact your family could also leave you feeling helpless and out of control when you’re trying to support your child.

Good Thinking has created this article and has also spoken to eating disorder charity Beat for our podcast. You can find more detailed guidance about managing eating disorders on the Beat website and general advice about coronavirus on the NHS website. The Beat website also provides tips from young people.


10 things you can do to support your child

  1. Speak openly with your child about what is going on and find out if anything is worrying them. Remember to listen to them rather than feeling you should have all the answers. You might find this UNICEF guidance about how to talk to your child about coronavirus and Beat’s guidance for supporting someone with an eating disorder helpful. Check the current COVID-19 guidance on the UK Government website.
  2. Work with your child to structure their day, including school work, meals and snacks, relaxation and socialising online. It might be helpful to draw up a schedule that you have on the wall at home. Have a discussion about screen time and encourage children who have social media profiles to only use trusted sources, such as the NHS website, to find information about coronavirus.
  3. Stay in contact with the service that is supporting your child – get advice and a revised care plan for this period. Ask: Will they visit you if really needed? Can they offer help by video conferencing? If your child needs a physical health check, how can that happen? Read Good Thinking's advice for children and young people who receive counselling and other support.
  4. You might have your own worries about the risk to your child if they become infected, bearing in mind their physical condition might be weakened due to their eating disorder. Ask your treatment team for their view and if you need to do anything in addition to the official advice on social distancing and self-isolation.
  5. Your child might use their time to increase the amount they exercise. Seek advice about how to help them challenge these thoughts and structure appropriate exercise into their day.
  6. You might not be able to get hold of the foods they prefer or that are on their meal plans. Ask your treatment team or dietitian for advice on substitutes.
  7. Good communication will be more important than ever. Have regular conversations with your child to find out what’s worrying them and how you can help. Make use of your support network (friends, partner and other families in your situation) too so that you don’t feel as if you’re dealing with this on your own.
  8. If appointments with your child’s treatment team are cancelled due to staff sickness or a switch to video appointments, make sure you know what to do in the meantime and where to go for help if problems develop. Read Good Thinking's advice for children and young people who receive counselling and other support.
  9. Remember to look after yourself. This is a stressful situation for everyone so make sure you take regular breaks and maintain healthy habits. Try focusing on the good things – this time together could lead to stronger relationships and new habits and skills.
  10. If you’d like to speak to a trained advisor, contact the Beat helpline.


Useful websites

BEAT

NHS

YoungMinds

FEAST

Anorexia & Bulimia Care

PEDS

Read our articles about how to look after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak, how to reduce stress and advice for parents and carers about exam results. Good Thinking has also produced advice about eating disorders for children and young people and advice for children and young people who receive counselling and other support.

Our partners at Wellmind Health are offering their Meditainment course of 20 guided meditations for free up to December 2020.