“How can I help you?”
It’s really, really hard to know how to help someone with an eating disorder. Maybe you’ve been wracking your brain to no avail. Well here’s a secret… the best way to find out is to ask them. This can be a real conversation starter and you’ll be amazed at some of the suggestions you’ll get back, anything from, “Sit with me when I eat, but please don’t talk” to “Don’t pretend there’s nothing wrong with me” to “Just keep asking, it’s helpful to know you care.” Don’t ask unless you’re genuinely willing to help and support though.
Choose the most appropriate parent
Ask the pupil which of their parents would be better to speak to. They are likely to have a good idea about which of their parents is most likely to supportive, understanding and comfortable discussing such a sensitive issue.
Plan what to say
Make a list of the points you want to cover beforehand – it can be very easy to become flustered on the phone if the conversation is difficult, or to fail to mention certain things if the conversation goes off in a different direction than you’d planned for.
Talking to parents about eating disorders on the phone
It’s always preferable to inform a parent of their child’s eating disorder in a face-to-face meeting where you can read and respond to body language. However, it’s not always possible and you may end up having to have the conversation on the phone. In which case the following points are worth bearing in mind:
Don’t talk over the parent or they’ll get annoyed with you; let them finish their sentences. It can be helpful to drop the names of some of our partner organizations, for example “we work with the East Kent Health Hub” or “all of our fitness trainers and health advisers are Discovery trained personal trainers” so that they have something to Google and can see that we are who we claim we are. If they get angry at you for accusing their child of being fat and claim that their son or daughter just has “puppy fat”, the response you should give is: “puppy fat belongs on puppies”. Make it clear from the start that the help and advice you’re offering is free and you aren’t calling to try and sell them anything.
Call at a good time
Pre-arrange a good time to call so that both you and the parent have time to talk. This is not a conversation that can be rushed.