Eating Disorders in Children rises 119%
The News Herald serving Northern Ohio posted an article
today with jaw dropping statistics of the rise in eating disorders among
“Nationally, hospitalizations for eating disorders have increased with
staggering speed. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found a 119
percent increase, between 1999-2006, in hospitalizations for children younger
The article goes onto speculate “Have eating disorders
really risen in the past 10 years or are we just more aware now and able to
properly diagnose?” It is hard to say and I’m not an analyst so I can’t help you
there. What I can help you with is preventing eating disorders. Like any
addiction, eating disorders have a genetic component making one more
susceptible to developing one, yet environment and family dynamics play a large
role. We often discuss this with concerned Victorian clients who report their
siblings or children showing signs of a developing eating disorder.
In response I have put together some of my own tactics to
use with raising a child in order to prevent an eating disorder. Everyone
should remember S-M-I-L-E, SMILE!
S – Speak Slowly
From birth through their teenage years children are learning
how to be people by modeling and watching their parents and care givers. If they see their
parents complaining about their weight, their wrinkles or overly concerned
about the way look in some jeans they are going to complain and hold concern
over the same things. Speak slowly before you voice your insecurity’s and also
get to know the people who are caring for your children. Do they speak
obsessively about their appearance? Asking a potential nanny “How do you feel
about your own body image?” Is not an outrageous question these days.
M – Movies
No, the Disney princesses are not to blame for eating
disorders, but an over consumption of them may contribute greatly to a girls
values. In therapy many eating disorder clients refer to “wanting to be saved
out of their eating disorder” and “Waiting for that someone who will make it
all better.” When a child is still molding their values the images they see
have a lasting impact. Therefore it is very important to show movies and films
of strong, independent heroines some of my favorites are Anne of Green Gables
or Little Women.
I – Individual
Whether it’s a boy or a girl each kid wants to know that
they are special for something. Girls get praised for being “cute” and “beautiful”
therefore they try to embody this constantly for praise. Boys get praised for
being “Strong” and “tough” therefore they try to embody this constantly. There
isn’t anything wrong with being beautiful or strong, but it’s the over emphasis
that drives addiction. The children feed of the praise for their self esteem.
Considering that beauty and strength are external the praise is very fickle and
doesn’t help the child develop a strong sense of self. What does help a child
is praise for their individuality such as, “Wow! You are such a good artists!”
Or “Wow! You are such a good friend!” or “Wow! You are so smart!” or “Wow! You
are so kind!” Every kid is good at something, it’s up to you to show them their
individuality which in the long run will make them a confident adult, not an
insecure one constantly looking for external affirmation.
L – Like
Again children mimic what we say, making it equally
important for us to verbalize what we “Like” about other people. If we show
children through our conversations that “I LIKE your new hair!” or “I LIKE your
new car” or “I LIKE your new dress” or “I LIKE your new house” Children will
also learn to like these things as well. We need to show children that we “LIKE
how well Mrs. Simmons loves on her animals.” Or “I really LIKE how Mr. Sanchez
donates his dental services to kids who don’t have a dentist.” When kids hear
this dialogue they will try to fit the mold of your ‘LIKING’.
E – Excitement
A lot of times children develop an over concern with their
looks and body, by parents excitement. Does this sound familiar, “Wow! You look
so beautiful!” or “Wow! You look so handsome!” There is nothing wrong with
this, but try to show the same about of excitement around their creativity,
kindness and strength. Children need to know that their value lies not simply
in their external appearance, but in how they are each uniquely made.
I hope these tips helped anyone currently worried about the
children in their lives developing eating disorders. Check back at The
Victorian Recovery Blog next week for more news, research and tips on eating disorders!
*Note: Irvina Kanarek
is not a counselor, mother or psychologist. Her tactics are from her experience
working in an eating disorder treatment center, as a nanny and art teacher .