How to Encourage Your Child to Accept Eating Disorder Treatment

As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Or, in this case, eat in a healthy manner. If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, it can be a huge challenge to get them the help they need to begin recovery. One of the first steps for a young person is to simply accept the need for eating disorder treatment — that is, recognize that there is a problem, they are not able to fix it by choice or will power alone and that treatment by medical and mental health professionals is the best way to break free from their challenges.

In today’s blog post, we share four tips to help encourage your child to accept eating disorder treatment so they can start their healing journey. 

 Once your child agrees to treatment — and genuinely believes that they need help to be healthy again — they’ll be on their way to full recovery.

1. Learn more about eating disorders together.

It’s important that you both learn more about what eating disorders are, how they impact a person’s life, and why it’s important to get treatment. By learning together, you can engage in curiosity without judgment and talk through any questions. As you’re reading through articles or watching educational videos, it can be helpful to show that you’re learning too, even as their parents. This effort in unity, positions you to be on the same level of understanding, which can help you, as the parent, avoid appearing too authoritative.

 There are many excellent and evidence-based resources about eating disorders, and many of them are written for young people with accessible and easily understandable information. Taking in the same content also means that you’ll better understand your child’s level of understanding about their eating disorder challenges. It might also be helpful to speak with a primary care doctor and a mental health professional to learn more about eating disorders, as they can provide research-backed information in a way that is appropriate for your child.

2. Talk about options for treatment.

After your child engages in learning about eating disorders — particularly how serious the implications are for having a long-term eating disorder — it might be time to bring up the subject of treatment. It’s best to talk about treatment options after your child gains insight into their eating disorder.

When talking about treatment, try to use an open and empathetic tone, providing them with their options without forcing them to pick one in the heat of the moment. This less-pressured approach leaves the power of choice in your child’s hands, which can be hugely encouraging for them when it comes to accepting eating disorder treatment.

 Eating disorder treatment is not one-size-fits-all. There are many different eating disorder treatments available, and even more health care practices that offer support for those struggling with eating disorders. By showing your child a few options, they can pick the one that makes them feel most comfortable. Our website has many pictures of the estate alongside information about our treatment programs, which can be a great way to show your child that not all options have to be a sterile hospital setting.

3. Address their concerns.

Take your child’s concerns seriously when it comes to eating disorder treatment, and — if you can — address their worries. Getting treatment for a mental health condition can be intimidating and scary, so talking through what’s bothering them can help set them at ease as the next step of their journey. Their anxieties about certain aspects of treatment can get in their way of being ready for change, overall hindering their acceptance of eating disorder treatment.

 For example, if your child is worried that they’ll get behind at school while they’re in treatment, you can address their concern by showing them they’ll have a daily school program to ensure that they stay on track with their classmates.

 Here are a few conversation starters to address your child’s concerns about eating disorder treatment:

  • “It can be really scary to start something new. Is there anything in particular on your mind that you want to talk about?”
  • “I know that it’s a new environment with new people. What’s worrying you about the thought of going there?”
  • “What do you think? Anything that you’re feeling a bit stressed about when you’re thinking about treatment options?”

 4. Show your support.

The last tip is to show your support for your child every step of the way with a “can do” attitude. There will be successes and difficulties along the way, but no matter what’s happening, let your child know that you support them and that you love them. However, you do it, showing that you’re proud of them seeking help reinforces that they’re doing something positive.

A 2017 study showed that caregivers face immense stress when their children go through the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders. There are often unmet needs that occur while caregiving for someone with an eating disorder (1). That being said, the support of a parent has a major impact on a child’s eating disorder recovery, as supported by a 2019 study on child and parents (2). No matter how overwhelmed you might feel, it’s important to center your actions and words around what’s medically best for your child. Even if it seems impossible, with the help of mental health professionals, at some point, your child will accept that they need help with their eating disorder — and you’ll be there ready to support them on their recovery journey.

 The team at Hidden River is here to help. Please reach out to us today.


  1. Fox, J.R.E., Dean, M., & Whittlesea, A. (2017). The Experience of Caring For or Living with an Individual with an Eating Disorder: A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(1), 103-125.

2. Mitrofan, O. & et. al. (2019). Care experiences of young people with eating disorders and their parents: qualitative study. BMJPsych Open, 5(1).