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Offering Wellness as an Option: Preparing What to Say


The script below is an excerpt taken from When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers (Natenshon, pgs. 83-85)



Beginning the Dialogue with Your Child

Mentally rehearsing a confrontation with your child can help you get ready to intervene by mapping out major points and goals for your dialogue. You may want to anticipate making active listening responses, recognizing and responding to resistance, and offering effective rebuttals. The following section is a sample script, or discussion outline, for a parent who sees symptoms of an eating disorder in her child that the child is refusing to acknowledge. It incorporates many of the ideas discussed in this chapter.  Think about which aspects of the script might work for you. If some parts of the discussion feel less comfortable to you than others, try to understand why. You may use the script as a model for preparing your own outline of what you might say and how you might respond to your child’s predictable display of resistance.


Sample Script for an Intervention

PARENT: I’m concerned about you. Here is what I’ve observed [describes his or her observations]. My hunch is that you may be needing some help now. What’s your take on this?

CHILD: There’s nothing wrong [or, You’re imagining it, exaggerating; or, It’s really none of your business; or, If there’s ever anything to be concerned about, I’ll let you know].

PARENT: I understand what you think, but it would be helpful for me to know more about how you’ve arrived at this conclusion. Because we see things differently, and because this might possibly be a matter of your health, maybe a professional should help us determine what, if anything, might be going on here.

CHILD: I’m not going to see anyone. I don’t want to, and I don’t need to [or, I can fix things myself whenever I choose].

PARENT: It’s only natural to feel reluctant to investigate a situation that scares you or makes you feel out of control. A lot of people who don’t understand eating disorders think all kinds of scary things about them, like once you have a disorder you’ve got it “for life” or that you have to be “psycho” to have an eating disorder or to go into therapy. You know that these notions aren’t true, don’t you?

CHILD: Of course. I also know there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just trying to keep my weight down so I can look good. All I want to do is lose ten pounds.

PARENT: What is so confusing about eating disorders is that they appear to be about food and weight, but they are actually devices that help people solve problems, cope with anxiety, and take control—not only of food, but of life. The odds are that if you are out of control with food and frightened about gaining weight, you are probably feeling out of control and fearful about other things in life as well. Eating disorders reflect how a person thinks, acts, and feels in general. By the way, have you thought about why you feel you must engage in such extreme behaviors in order to lose weight? And are you absolutely certain that you’d be content to stop losing weight once you lost the initial ten pounds?

CHILD: OK, so let’s say I have a problem and I went for help. What if things didn’t get better for me even then?

PARENT: It’s understandable that you might be concerned about that, because eating disorder recovery can be a real challenge and can take time. But you’re up to it, and I’m behind you. You’ve done a lot of tough things in your life—you’ll do this one, too. The changes you will need to make won’t require you to totally revamp who you are; they will simply be a matter of fine-tuning some of the strengths and resources that you already have in place.

CHILD: What if I have to leave college [or, school]?

PARENT: There’s a good chance that you could work on your recovery while in school, through various supports on campus. If the problem is too intense for you to stay at school, it will make sense for you to take a semester off, because there’s not a lot of learning that can go on anyway when all you can think about is food.

CHILD: I’m not ready to get help now. I’ll take care of this next week. Just give me a little time.

PARENT: Do you believe that waiting will help the situation go away? Initially, an eating disorder helps a person feel better, but the longer the disease goes on, the greater the damage it does to the body and the harder it is to fix. If you’d like to try to make a few changes on your own for a week or so and then see what happens, that’s OK with me. But let’s plan to talk about it again in a week’s time to see how things are going.

CHILD: I promise, I can do this myself. I don’t need anybody’s help.

PARENT: If you had diabetes and needed insulin, I’d be responsible, as your parent, to make sure you got the medical attention you needed. This situation leaves me no choice either. Why not take the week you are looking for, and let’s say that if you haven’t been able to make sufficient changes in that time, then I’ll step in at that point to find help for you. That’s the deal. I will offer you a hand temporarily, just until you are free to take control of things on your own again. So, what do you think?

CHILD: I guess that sounds fair. I just wish I could be good enough the way I am. 

PARENT: You are certainly good enough. My intention is to help you stay that way. Achieving an open exchange is the most important goal as you begin to dialogue with your child. Don’t expect results immediately, but remain focused, confident that you are doing what needs to be done, and persistent.


Getting Started

By now, you have the essential information you need to confront your child. Think of an appropriate time to bring up the necessary conversation with your child, or resolve to take advantage of the next opportunity that presents itself. Decide whether you want to be with or without your partner when you talk with your child. If the two of you are to do this together, determine the things you and your partner should discuss prior to the dialogue with your child. Be sure that you are both of the same mind and that your child does not feel ambushed.


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