What Do I Do If My Child Refuses Eating Disorder Treatment?

Watching your child struggle with an eating disorder is a challenge no parent wants to face. Even worse? That feeling of complete helplessness if your child resists or rejects treatment. It’s tempting to force kids into recovery, but that’s an expensive, exhausting, and, oftentimes, ineffective road to take.

To begin, let’s take a closer look at why someone may refuse eating disorder treatment.

First, they may believe that their eating disorder isn’t a serious problem or that they aren’t “sick enough” to need treatment. They may also have a warped perspective on what “healthy” means, making it hard for them to accurately understand the gravity of the situation.

Second, eating disorders often serve as a coping mechanism, meaning that the disordered behaviors are a source of comfort for your child. Your child may not be able to fathom life without their eating disorder. In that case, the thought of treatment and recovery is terrifying to them.

Lastly, your child may not be open to treatment because of previous conversations or experiences related to the idea. If you feel like you fumbled your approach to their eating disorder in the past, know that you’re not alone: Few parents have a robust understanding of this mental illness, much less know how to handle it without professional guidance.

Now, let’s consider three things that you can do if your child refuses eating disorder treatment.

1. Don’t engage in a power struggle over their condition and treatment plan.

The path to eating disorder treatment is often littered with blow-out arguments and tears. Try not to turn their recovery journey into a debate or battle of wills though. Instead, focus on what you can control (like your beliefs and behaviors or your reaction to their revelations) instead of what you can’t (like your child’s choices and feelings).

For instance, you may want to counteract their refusal of treatment with a focus on the value of professional help. However, this approach may make them even more defensive — and the more they protect their eating disorder, the harder it will be to get them to change their mind.

Don’t rush the process. If you can stay calm and gently encourage your child to enter treatment of their own volition, things will get better.

2. Engage in family therapy.

An eating disorder is often a sign that your family dynamics are suffering. Rather than focusing all of your attention on your child’s issues, work together to improve communication and attachment within your family unit. As you seek to better your parent-child relationship, consider attending family therapy together. You can take this step even if your child is still refusing treatment. In fact, it may even be a stepping stone to shifting their thoughts on treatment.

Take your time as you look for a therapist that is a good fit for you and your child. You want to find someone who has experience with family dynamics and parent-child relationships. An understanding of eating disorder treatment is helpful as well.

If your child resists, reiterate that you aren’t trying to “fix” them or even their eating disorder. Your focus is only your relationship with them.

3. Seek help for yourself.

You may be so wrapped up in your child’s need for treatment that you fail to see how much a mental health professional could help you. As we touched on above, it’s incredibly difficult to watch your child suffer from an eating disorder. It’s heartbreaking and stressful — a roller coaster that, at times, feels like it’s crashing straight to the ground.

You can’t take care of your child if you’re not taking care of yourself. Likewise, it’s hard to advocate for your loved one if you’re overwhelmed, afraid, and resentful. Speaking your fears out loud in a safe space or working to change your own beliefs and behaviors will aid in your personal growth, which ultimately makes you a better parent. Therapy will also help you better understand your role in your child’s recovery, ensuring that you’re ready for the journey ahead.

Parenting your child as they struggle with an eating disorder is never easy. Remember, though, that you deserve support too.

Don’t put so much attention on your child’s future recovery that you forget about the here and now. If you focus on improving your relationship and being the best parent you can be, your child will reap the benefits. Ultimately, your love and support will help your child accept the importance of treatment.

For more information about eating disorder treatment at Hidden River, please visit our website.

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