Parents can help a child with eating disorder recovery, and these journal prompts that you complete together can guide you.
Why you should journal with your child in eating disorder recovery
Often when a child has an eating disorder they are sent to therapy and treated as a person with a problem. And it’s true that your child is the one who has the problem of an eating disorder. But eating disorders don’t come out of nowhere. Your child developed their disorder within your family system. And they will recover into your family system. So it makes sense to work on the system, not just the eating disorder.
When the family system heals and becomes stronger, the child’s chances of recovery improve.
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- Calming strategies
Family therapy is a great way to improve your family system. But not all families are able to make it work. Luckily, family therapy isn’t the only path forward. If it’s not an option or isn’t working well for your family, or if you want to enhance family therapy at home, you can work directly with your child to build your connection.
These journal prompts for eating disorder recovery are a way for one parent to work with the child to get closer and build a safe relationship. And it is within safe relationships that eating disorder recovery takes hold.
Journaling has consistently been shown to improve mood, support emotional development, and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and many other psychological disruptions. As your child goes through eating disorder treatment, you can journal together at home.
Benefits of journaling together
Here are some benefits of journaling with your child in eating disorder recovery:
1. It’s a way for you to participate in recovery
Often when a child enters recovery, parents feel out of the loop and afraid of getting involved or making things worse. But there are things parents can do to improve recovery chances, and journaling together is a great option.
2. It’s a great way to build emotional literacy
A key element of recovery is building emotional literacy. These journal prompts for eating disorder recovery will help you learn to talk about and process emotions together. This will enhance your child’s recovery process and improve the whole family system.
3. It’s a powerful way to learn body positivity
We live in a culture that is cruel to bodies. To recover, we need to expose the dangerous messages we have received about food and bodies. Journaling together can help you both learn to spot fatphobia and build body positivity.
How to use the journal prompts for eating disorder recovery
Here are some ideas for using these journal prompts to build the connection between you and your child.
1. Set aside a specific day and time
Select a regular day and time to journal together. Try to avoid skipping or rescheduling this time. Part of the value is the consistency, so really commit to a schedule.
2. Keep the bar low
Once per week for 10 minutes can be a good starting point. It’s a low bar, and you’re both more likely to put effort into it if the time is short. Set a timer for 10 minutes when you begin. Of course you may both decide to go longer, but if your child wants to stop at 10 minutes, let them.
3. Do the work
Read the writing prompt, then take a few minutes to write your answers separately on a piece of paper. Then switch the paper and read each others’ answers. Talk about the answers you each wrote, sharing as much as you can. This should feel like a stretch for both of you, but the more you practice, the easier it will be.
4. Stay in your parent role
We all have multiple parts of ourselves. These range from the strong, secure, confident parent to a hurt child who is still healing from old wounds, and many other selves in between. It may be tempting for you to work on these prompts from your child self. Please keep your parent role in the forefront while you are working with your child. Your child is not an appropriate audience for your younger selves. Staying in your parent role is not about repressing yourself, but rather about putting your parent role in the driver’s seat so you can accomplish your goals. If this is hard for you, please seek support from a therapist or coach.
Set ground rules for journaling together
Before you begin journaling together, make sure that you set some ground rules for how you will communicate during this time.
1. Be respectful
It’s important that you each have the opportunity to be honest and vulnerable. So have a rule that you will be respectful of each others’ opinions, thoughts, and feelings. If you disagree about something, that’s all right. Just don’t insist that their way is “wrong” and your way is “right.” The goal is to connect and share with each other, not dominate and control.
2. Don’t be defensive
One of the things that’s sure to happen is that your child will write and/or say something that hurts you. But defensiveness will start a fight. So instead take a deep breath and remember that your goal is connection. Here are some good responses when you’re tempted to get defensive:
- That sounds really hard. I’m sorry that happened to you.
- I’m really sorry I said that to you. It was wrong.
- I wish that I could go back and change that for you.
- It sounds like I let you down there, and I’m going to work on myself to avoid doing that again.
- I know that it didn’t do things right back then, but I’m here, and I’m learning to do better.
3. Take a time-out if you need to
If the conversation goes sideways or either of you is feeling anxious, short of breath, or overwhelmed, take a time-out. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I can see that we’re both getting really upset, would you like to take a time-out?” Try as much as possible to let your child take the lead.
Here are some journal prompts that you can use with your child in eating disorder recovery:
Journal prompt #1
Lots of people in our society believe that there are “good” and “bad” bodies. But all bodies are inherently good and worthy of our love and respect. Whether a body is black, brown, or white; able or disabled; fat or thin; female, male, or nonbinary; all bodies are worthy of respect. How does reading that make you feel? Do you believe that all bodies are inherently good? How would believing that your body is good regardless of these characteristics change how you treat it?
Journal prompt #2
It’s common in our society to try and push down and hide our feelings. This is especially true when they are negative. For example, you may feel it’s wrong to feel or express anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, or sadness. But human beings are emotional beings. We feel negative and positive feelings all day. It’s normal and healthy to feel feelings. And repressing our feelings because we don’t think they are “good” can actually hurt our health. Do you notice that you restrict or repress your negative feelings when they show up during the day? Why do you think you do that? How would believing that you can feel all your feelings without restricting them change how you behave?
Journal prompt #3
Our greatest fear as humans is that we are not loved or lovable. Often when we get mad at our loved ones or shut them out of our lives, what we’re feeling is afraid that we won’t/can’t get the love we want. How does reading that make you feel? Can you think of a time when you responded with anger or aggression when in fact you were afraid that you aren’t good enough or lovable? What would you like the people who love you to do when they think you might be afraid of being unlovable? How can they respond to show you they love you no matter what you do?
Journal prompt #4
It’s very common for people who love each other to try and protect the other person from negative feelings. We subconsciously believe that if we tell them what we really think, they will not be able to handle our honesty. So we walk on eggshells around each other, avoiding spiky conversations. But this means that we don’t share our true selves. When you really think about eggshells, they crunch, but they can’t hurt us. So why are we so afraid of stepping on them? When do you walk on eggshells with your loved ones? When did you learn that you need to hide how you feel to try and protect the people you love? What would you like your parent/child to know about you?
Journal prompt #5
In our culture we have been told there is a strong connection between eating “right” and being “good.” We often believe that people who eat kale salads are morally superior and healthier than people who eat “junk food.” But our obsession with good and bad foods is a major contributor to disordered eating and it’s actually hurting our health. The healthiest diet is one that makes you feel physically satisfied, and it can include all types of foods ranging from salad to ice cream, lentils to french fries. How does reading that make you feel? Do you think you have ever used how and what you eat as a way to indicate that you are “good?” What would it mean to you if you allowed all foods into your life and stopped believing that some foods are “good” and others are “bad?”
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Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to help their kids recover from eating disorders, body image issues, and other mental health conditions. She’s the founder of More-Love.org, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with mental health issues.
Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.