The holiday season is a wonderful and exciting time for families and friends to celebrate together. However, with busy schedules and lots of holiday gatherings, someone recovering from an eating disorder needs added support from loved ones to stay on the path to full recovery during this overwhelming and difficult time.
As your child’s most staunch protector, you’re uniquely positioned to run discrete interference to minimize the pressure that they may feel during social events. To support your child during these high-pressure situations, there are a few things that you can be mindful of as a parent this holiday.
The holiday season is typically filled with countless activities and festive celebrations, including family gatherings, work parties, and gift exchanges. It is important for anyone living with an ED to balance what is necessary and what is not. You might be eager to involve your child in all holiday activities and share special moments, but it is crucial to take proactive steps to prevent your child from becoming overwhelmed by various triggers that could potentially lead to a relapse. Our shared goal is to prevent these triggers, when possible, to ensure that your child’s recovery stays the top priority.
Do not require your child to participate in every event; in fact, they might prefer spending quality time with a friend or loved one, rather than going to large (and potentially stressful) holiday gatherings. Respect that. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Ask them what they would like to do, and what would make them most comfortable.
The holiday season is not known for its predictable schedules and easy-going routines, so helping your child find structure is key. If your child is doing well on the path to recovery, they might be tempted to convince you (or genuinely feel as though) it is okay for them to skip their regular treatment appointments during the holidays. This is not advisable.
EDs don’t take the holidays off and are often triggered by holidays.
Creating a meal plan together is another source of power that can be asserted through the holidays. Sticking to that meal plan is a tool for a positive recovery, and a family dinner may be an opportunity to achieve another milestone as a supportive unit. Make sure to discuss the plan with your dietitians or child’s therapist, and involve your child so they feel as comfortable and enabled in the recovery as possible. Planning ahead provides them with the stability to help them stay on the path to recovery.
Giving your child accountability and responsibility can foster healthy routines, as well. Task your child with daily chores, and involve them as you plan the “to do” list for the week ahead. These seemingly simple lists give them expectations and instruction to lower their anxiety. Talk through preparations and plans with your child, and you’ll surely see improvements in how overwhelmed—or not—they feel during these busy weeks.
As much love and compassion you feel for your child, they still may not feel comfortable talking to you about their eating disorder. Fear of letting you down, worrying you, getting in trouble… the list is long, but their worries are real. It’s important to surround them with approachable friends and/or someone who has gone through a similar situation. Online resources, such as the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can be helpful during the holiday season as your child can instantly connect with a support system.
Your child might feel reluctant to reach out for help, and would greatly benefit from your gentle reminder that speaking up is a sign of strength, not a weakness or something to be ashamed of.
During the holidays, everyone struggles with lack of time and attention toward what’s really important. People going through recovery, especially children, might feel like they (or their loved ones) don’t have time or energy to make ED treatment a priority. If you see your child making excuses, take the time to sit down and reprioritize with them. Ongoing communication is key.
Help them recognize that recovery is the most important thing, for them and you. Do your best to help them with their meal plan, encourage them to communicate their feelings, and provide them with the positive support they need. Keeping your child’s recovery as your top priority will ultimately help them stay on the path.
By redirecting focus away from food and onto family, friends, and fun activities, you’ll be helping to relieve your child from food-related anxieties. Take this quality time away from school and work to enjoy holiday traditions and help your child through recovery.