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Journal prompts to use with a child in eating disorder recovery

Journal prompts to use with a child in eating disorder recovery

Parents can help a child with eating disorder recovery, and these journal prompts that you complete together can guide you. Read on to find out:

  1. Why you should journal together
  2. Benefits of journaling together
  3. How to use the journal prompts
  4. Set some ground rules
  5. Five journal prompts for eating disorder recovery

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.

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.

Journal prompts

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?”

If you would like to see the data supporting the statements about weight and health, please visit our research library.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Decoding the language of eating disorders through art and metaphor

a mother breastfeeding a child to demonstrate art therapy and eating disorders

When our children develop eating disorders, we must understand that they are struggling with issues much deeper than food and their bodies. And yet the way they eat (or don’t eat) may be a critical clue to help us understand how we can help.

The very first way in which we care for our children is through feeding. When our children are in utero, their mother effortlessly nourishes them directly – body to body. Once born, our children seek the milk produced in our bodies and take it from our own bodies into their own. In this way, our children are directly connected to their mothers and completely dependent upon them for nourishment.

Once weaned, our children still rely on their parents for nourishment. As young children, they cannot separate the giving of food from the giving of comfort and love. They do not separate their bodily needs from their emotional needs. Both the food and attention we provide are vital to their growth and survival.

When viewed through this lens, it may not be so surprising that in today’s culture, we often see eating disorders arise during the period in life (adolescence) when we tend to ask our children to feed themselves.

As they arrive at about ten years old, we pull back on preparing and serving food. Busy schedules compete with sit-down family meals. Our children are independent enough to buy food at school, make their own lunches, and grab food from the pantry. We gain tremendous freedom when we no longer need to personally feed them 4-5 times per day.

A perceived loss

But is it possible that our children perceive this independence as a loss of parental nourishment? Is it possible that sometimes an eating disorder is the child’s way to ask for more care and attention? Because while it’s perfectly reasonable for us to pull back on feeding duties, some of us may forget that providing emotional nourishment is more important than ever.

Through no fault of our own, is it possible that our children are still linking being fed with being loved? If we divorce ourselves from the deeply symbolic and metaphoric meaning of food, then we may miss the signs that our children still need our parenting in ways that we thought they had outgrown.

The culture of belonging

Beyond basic life, eating habits and rituals are inextricably linked to culture and society. They are at the root of our belonging. When we eat together, forces deep in our psyche conspire to foster feelings of togetherness, belonging and companionship. Eating with others is inherently soothing to the human brain. When our child rejects the social norms around eating, it may be a sign that she is feeling isolated, alone and rejected.

There are three requirements for life: food, water, and oxygen. When our child begins to misuse one of these requirements, it may be a sign that life itself is not going smoothly for her*. This does not mean that we have done anything wrong as parents, but it may mean that something is wrong and we can make adjustments in our behavior to nourish our child in the ways that she needs.

Food and eating are never simple or black and white. When our child changes her food and eating behaviors, it may be a sign that there are things we can do as parents to regroup and hold our child closer. It may be a sign that our child needs us in a fundamental, deep way that cannot be expressed in words, but that she is expressing in food and eating behaviors.

When we listen to our child and think of food’s symbolism and metaphor, we are better able to support her in healing.

What eating behaviors might say if they could speak

We must look beneath the stated food rules or exhibited food behavior to find out what our child may be trying to communicate. Remember that these are just ideas – each child has her own relationship with food, eating, and nourishment. But those of us in recovery from an eating disorder can often find our words reflected below.

I won’t eat. I reject your care.

I eat too much. I can’t get enough care.

I’m afraid of food. I’m afraid of life.

I’m too fat. I’m not lovable.

I need to be thinner. I don’t accept myself.

I won’t eat animals. I feel voiceless, powerless, and mistreated.

I won’t eat gluten/processed foods/sugar. I need to feel pure.

I only eat healthy food. I need to feel good.

I eat in secret. My needs are shameful.

I overexercise. I deserve punishment.

I purge. I don’t deserve to have my needs met.

I eat to the point of discomfort. I deserve pain.

I steal food. I don’t deserve to be nourished.

I won’t eat in public. I do not belong.

I cheated. I am a failure.

Whatever food behaviors our children exhibit may provide an opportunity to see more deeply into their hearts and deepest desires. It is only when we accept their needs that we are able to provide the care that only parents are capable of giving.

*Eating disorders impact both females and males. The English language does not make it easy to write in a manner that acknowledges this fact. Therefore, for this article, we have chosen to write using female pronouns. Please be advised that this advice pertains equally to females and males.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Writing with your child in recovery for an eating disorder can lead to meaningful conversations and healing, by True U’s Annie Shiel and Merideth VanSant

At True U, we offer a combination of yoga, meditation and “True Talks” for adolescent girls with the goal of encouraging them to explore their feelings and connect with their true selves. Through our partnership with More Love, we’ve adapted our True Talks for parents to use one-on-one with their children where appropriate. True Talks are both a powerful internal exploration and an opportunity for meaningful connection through journaling, and subsequent sharing and discussion.

Explore True Talks with your child

1. Get some notebooks or journals to use for True Talks. You and your child should each have your own.

2. Discuss how you will use True Talks for both self-expression and to build your relationship. You might schedule regular True Talks, or use True Talks during particularly stressful times. We suggest using a combination of both approaches.

3. To begin, sit down with your child to choose a theme and accompanying journal prompt. Make sure you choose something you’d both like to explore and that is developmentally appropriate. Establish “guidelines of engagement” if necessary to ensure a safe space for both of you. Guidelines can include active listening, privacy of the written word (perhaps no peaking in the journal!), all to create an authentic and safe space.

4. Take about 5-10 minutes to write individually, in silence. Any form of self-expression works well. While many people write, others may enjoy drawing or creating a cartoon.

5. Share. Come back together to share your responses. As the adult, we recommend you share first – it goes a long way to take the first step and show some vulnerability. Then ask your child to share. They may find it easier to read their answer as written, or they may choose to discuss the theme. Practice active listening, and try to reflect back what you’ve heard to them so they know they’re heard and understood. If you feel the same way, tell them. Let them know they’re not alone, and you’ve been there too. Sometimes your child may choose not to share, and that’s OK, too! Perhaps instead talk about what it feels like to do an exercise like this, or why they feel that it is/isn’t important.

6. Reflect on the exercise together. How did the exercise itself go? Was it difficult to write down, or did it flow naturally? How did it feel to share? Was the exercise valuable? What might you change or do differently? Would you like to do it again? If so, set an intention to repeat this exercise. Pick a theme and day together for the next True Talk.

True Talk Prompts

Figure out how you will work together on a theme or concept. Here are three ideas for getting started.

1. Ask a question that is meaningful to both of you. Here is one of our favorites:

What are you afraid of?  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

When you finish, talk about your fears and opportunities. Consider what it would mean if you could support each other in overcoming your fears and pursuing your passions. If appropriate, make a commitment to each other to work on this together.

2. Write a letter to yourself from someone who loves you. This could be a parent or guardian, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend, or even a pet. Write the letter from their perspective.

Once you finish, talk about the letters you wrote. Notice: does this person seem to care if you’re perfect? Did they mention anything about how you look? Talk about the difference between how the people who love us talk to us compared to how we talk to ourselves. Many of us are much more judgmental and even mean to ourselves than anyone else would ever be. How can you support each other in building loving voices for yourselves?

3. Write letters to each other. Sometimes it is difficult to say things out loud, and writing can help us to get our feelings across. If something particularly difficult is going on between you, then take some time to write honestly about the situation from your perspective. Lay some ground rules – namely, use “I feel” statements instead of “you always” or “you should.”

This method may be the trickiest to handle because it can stir up big emotions. But it can also be a helpful way to get down to what your child is really feeling. Only take this on if you feel you can maintain a sense of calm, confident distance from accusations and mean-spirited statements that may pour forth. Or ask your child’s therapist for some guidelines in advance. Remember that your child is seeking a safe way to express feelings, and feelings don’t always tell the truth. With time, we can learn to hear our children’s feelings without taking them personally.

true u

Annie Shiel and Merideth VanSant are the co-founders of True U, an organization working to empower adolescent girls with yoga, mindfulness practices, and honest conversation. Annie is a trauma-informed vinyasa yoga teacher dedicated to using yoga as a tool for healing, self-love, social justice, and empowerment. Merideth holds a Masters of Science in Human Development and uses her professional and personal background to promote resiliency and empower women to build strong and inspired communities. She is a trained power flow and Rocket yoga teacher. To learn more about True U and bring their work to your community, visit

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Getting a dog for your child who has an eating disorder

Getting a dog for your child who is in recovery from an eating disorder

Have you ever heard about someone getting an emotional support dog? Getting a dog for your child who has an eating disorder can be a great way to help them heal. Dogs provide unconditional love and affection. This can help your child during the healing process.

Eating disorder treatment includes professional care. Your child’s treatment team will support the development of a healthy self-image. Your child will learn self-care techniques and build self-worth. But even the best care team will tell parents that true healing takes place at home. This puts parents and siblings on the front line of care.

Getting a dog can help eating disorder recovery

This pressure can be a bit intimidating. It’s hard to provide the constant affection, reinforcement, and attention that will support eating disorder recovery. Luckily, there are four-legged-friends who would be happy to help you with in-home care for your child’s eating disorder.

Pets have been shown to support trauma recovery, reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, and provide life purpose. Petting a dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate and increase levels of endorphins and oxytocin.

We’re focusing on dogs, but of course, there are many options when it comes to pets. Dogs just happen to be easily available, trainable, and loyal. They can be a very good addition to your child’s eating disorder therapy. But, of course, getting a dog is not a simple decision.

Dogs as emotional support companions

There is significant evidence that demonstrates dogs are excellent emotional support companions. This is important in eating disorder recovery, because eating disorders are complicated emotional disorders, and they require a multi-pronged emotionally intelligent approach. While professional support and family support go a long way, a dog or other beloved pet may make all the difference in the moment-to-moment recovery moments.

A relationship with a dog can build a safe connection. This connection can cause a release of oxytocin, which positively impacts emotional security. Interaction with a dog can also lower cortisol (stress) levels. These combined actions make connecting with a dog deeply healing for a person who is in recovery from an eating disorder.

Listen to this Podcast for more about this: Oxytocin, dogs, & pets in General as attachment figures, Therapist Uncensored episode 95

Dogs offer companionship, reduce anxiety and loneliness, increase self-esteem, and improve overall mood.[1] Dogs have also been shown to increase the following behaviors, which reduce depression and anxiety:

  • Physical activity
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Sense of agency and autonomy

Studies have even shown that a single 12-minute visit from a dog among hospitalized patients with advanced heart failure produced small but significant health improvement.[2]

Here are some ideas about how to go about getting a dog specifically to support your child’s healing process.

Before getting a dog during eating disorder recovery

Before you get a dog, you want to establish your goals. We’re going to assume the primary goal is to provide a loving companion for your child who has an eating disorder.

A dog will provide comfort and companionship. It can also help your child build a sense of self-worth and self-efficacy. To do this, your child should be responsible for your dog’s care. It’s important to ensure that your child is interested in getting a dog and is willing and committed to caring for it.

Deciding to get a dog is a family decision that will impact everyone. If someone in the family is allergic to or intolerant of dogs, then come up with another idea. Make it clear that if the family agrees to get a dog, there is no going back. Having a dog is a commitment for that dog’s life.

Care guidelines

A dog can be a great way to give your child a sense of agency and accomplishment. But to do this you really need to set up clear expectations about the dog before you get it. Vague expectations will have a double negative effect. First, you will get frustrated and resentful if your child fails to take care of the dog. Second, you child will feel ashamed of themselves and frustrated with you for not being clear in advance. These are not great outcomes, especially on top of an eating disorder. So clarity going into the dog process is key to success. At a minimum, your child should commit to the following caregiving tasks:

  • Maintaining a clean water bowl
  • Feeding the dog 1-2 times per day
  • Walking the dog at least twice per day

Feeding may be as simple as putting a cup of kibble in a bowl. But some dogs have digestive problems, which may require a special diet. In such cases, your child may need to prepare simple foods for the dog, such as boiled chicken and rice. You won’t know these details until you live with the dog, so it’s best to be prepared for all possibilities.

Additional dog care requirements

Your child will also need to clean up after the dog. this means daily poop-duty. There’s also the likelihood of random vomiting, diarrhea, and peeing-in-the-house accidents. These are unpleasant but expected aspects of dog ownership that your child should be aware of and agree to handle.

Grooming varies based on the type of dog you get. If the dog is going to be inside your home, you should require your child to bathe the dog every few weeks and brush it daily. These duties may increase if the dog is prone to shedding.

Some dogs develop barking or other bad habits that your child will need to address through research and training. Almost every negative habit can be addressed. But it will require your child to learn some new skills. This can actually be a great thing for a child who is in recovery for an eating disorder.

Create a care plan for the dog before you bring it home. Set this up as a contract between you and your child. Print out the care plan and have your child sign and date it to affirm the care they will provide the dog.

Picking a dog

You may be interested in a particular breed of dog. You may decide to find a designated emotional support dog (more on that later). A great alternative, however, is to adopt a rescue dog. Many children/teens respond very positively to the idea of rescuing a dog that has been abandoned.

While almost everyone thinks they want a puppy, the reality is that puppies require a great deal of care. This will not work well in a busy family with multiple commitments. Instead of a puppy, consider adopting a fully-grown 2-5 year old (or even older) dog.

Benefits of getting an older dog for eating disorder recovery:

  1. You avoid the puppy years, which, though adorable, are also very disruptive. Just like having a baby, having a puppy includes frequent bathroom accidents and hyperactivity. Puppies need training for basic skills like house training, walking on a leash, behaving well around other dogs and children, etc.
  2. You can observe the dog’s personality and behavior as it will be for most of its life. Puppies are bundles of energy. It’s only after they hit about two years old that they achieve the steady personality you can expect.
  3. You can observe whether your child has a connection with a particular dog’s personality. Dogs are just like people – they all have a unique personality. You want to find a dog that will fit into your child’s (and your) life.
  4. Chances are good that your child will leave home soon. Adopting an older dog means that your child gets the benefit of having an animal. But you aren’t left taking care of it for a decade after your child leaves home.

Untitled design-3

Other considerations when choosing a dog

In addition to the type and age of the dog you get, you should also take into consideration some other key concepts:

  1. Size: remember that puppies grow into full-sized dogs. If you live in a smaller home or apartment, take your dog’s size into account and consider whether they will (literally) fit into your life. If you travel frequently or move every few years, remember that it is generally easier to have smaller dogs. Larger dogs are more expensive to feed, travel with, and can be harder to board. Rental properties also often have size limits on dogs.
  2. Energy: different dogs have different energy requirements. Realistically consider how much time and energy your child can devote to exercising your dog, and choose accordingly. Older dogs generally need less exercise than younger ones, and smaller dogs generally need less exercise than larger ones. Dogs tend to get into trouble – such as digging through trash cans, barking all day, and chewing expensive furniture – when they are under-exercised.
  3. Intelligence: most people assume they want a very intelligent dog, but remember that most highly-intelligent dogs require mental stimulation in addition to physical exercise. Working dogs like Australian Shepherds and Border Collies may develop negative behaviors if they don’t get the stimulation they need to avoid boredom.
  4. Health: some purebreds have a tendency to develop certain health conditions. Whenever possible, become aware of the weaknesses of your breed before making your choice. Also be sure to check the credentials and breeding history of your breeder.
  5. Grooming: some dogs require specialized grooming and care. For example, Pugs, Maltese, ShiTzus, and others require regular grooming that can get expensive if you don’t learn to do it yourself.
  6. “Aggressive” breeds: there is quite a bit of bias against some of the dog breeds that are considered “aggressive.” These include Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Dobermans. While these dogs can all be wonderful companions, you should know that it may be harder to board, groom, and get dog walkers and other caregivers for your pet. These breeds are also more likely to be prohibited in rental homes and apartments.

Top emotional support dog breeds

Most dogs are naturally adaptable and likely to bond well with your child. However, there are certain dog breeds that are particularly likely to provide the deep emotional connection that will support your child’s recovery from an eating disorder. The following ten dog breeds are commonly considered to be the best temperamental fits for emotional support:

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. German Shepherd
  3. Poodles
  4. Yorkshire terrier
  5. Beagle
  6. Corgie
  7. Pug
  8. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  9. Pomeranian
  10. Golden Retriever

Just a reminder on the point we previously made, many of these dog breeds are high-energy in the first 2-5 years and can add significant stress to your household.

Labrador Retrievers, for example, are wonderful dogs, but there are a lot of them in the shelters and adoption system due to their high-energy, sometimes destructive behavior in the first few years. This holds true for almost all of the dogs listed here and mixes, such as Goldendoodles and Labradoodles. They are wonderful dogs, but if you do choose a puppy, be prepared to invest significant time and energy in training and exercising them.


Once you have selected a dog, help your child bond with the dog by insisting upon the care plan. Try to avoid stepping in to take care of the dog.

Caring for the dog, even when it is inconvenient, is part of your child’s therapy plan. Caring for an animal provides a sense of ownership and agency. Your child will benefit from sticking to the care plan.

Support your child in building their bond with the dog. Support their interest in training ideas, grooming lessons, and even getting the dog certified to be a therapy dog. Doing this will mean the dog can visit sick people in the hospital or elder-care facilities.

Of course, if all your child wants to do it lie around petting the dog or taking selfies with the dog, that’s OK, too!

Emotional support dog information

All dogs of any breed and age are able to provide emotional support. You may have heard of emotional support dogs, also called emotional support animals (ESA), which are prescribed by a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

ESA dogs are not specially trained to respond to specific medical conditions. Therefore, they are not required to complete specialized training and are not allowed the same access as a licensed service dog.

The main benefit of getting an ESA is to circumvent certain housing and travel restrictions against pets. In other words, there’s nothing special about ESAs except that a therapist has provided a letter saying you need one.

How to get an emotional support animal (ESA)

  1. Get an official diagnosis from a licensed mental healthcare provider
  2. Request an emotional support animal (ESA) prescription. This is typically a letter from your provider that states you need an emotional support animal.
  3. Choose an animal. There is no official designation or training required.
  4. Keep the prescription/letter on-hand in housing and travel situations.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


For information about dogs available for adoption, what to think about before adopting, and more, visit


[1] Dhruv S. Kazi, Who Is Rescuing Whom? Dog Ownership and Cardiovascular Health, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, Oct 2019

[2] Cole KM, Gawlinski A, Steers N, Kotlerman J. Animal-assisted therapy in patients hospitalized with heart failure, American Journal of Critical Care, 2007

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Art therapy for eating disorders: a guide for parents

Art therapy is frequently used in treating eating disorders because it’s a great way to help people express their feelings. Most people who have eating disorders repress dark feelings like sadness, anger, frustration, and jealousy. But these feelings are all a natural part of being human.

In recovery, a person must learn how to process these negative feelings without using their eating disorder behaviors to cope. Art therapy is one way to help people who have eating disorders tap into these deep unexpressed feelings.

When a child is struggling with an eating disorder, they are also struggling with self-worth, emotional instability, depression, moodiness, and anxiety set amongst generalized adolescent angst. As a parent, it can be very challenging to handle all of those feelings and contain them.

But the good news is that we don’t have to contain our children’s feelings. We just need to help them find healthy ways of expressing their feelings, while simultaneously seeking professional support as needed. But, of course, professional support is limited – we are the ones who actually live with our teenagers day-to-day, seeing their ups and downs, and struggling to find equilibrium in the face of constantly changing emotional states.

Art therapy toolbox for parents

There are professionals who are trained and experienced in giving kids art therapy. Of course this does not replace those important and trained professionals. But parents don’t have to be therapists or artists to support kids in recovery. Instead, we just need to build a toolbox of things we can do with our kids to support them in feeling and expressing their emotions.

And while many parenting toolboxes are virtual and have more to do with mental exercises, this time you get to create a physical toolbox of art supplies. Here are some things you want to have on hand … maybe you have some of these left over from your kids’ childhood!

  • Paper, canvas, wooden boxes, cardboard shapes
  • Pens, pencils, markers, paint, glue, paintbrushes
  • Felt, buttons, sequins, glitter, fur, googly eyes
  • Collage images (e.g. words, nature, shapes) from magazines

Whether your toolbox is simple or elaborate isn’t as important as the fact that you have art supplies ready to go.

Dive in

Even if neither of you is artistic, the act of putting color on paper can be very therapeutic. When tested with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, weekly art sessions improved depression. In other studies, making art has been proven to provide a sense of control to patients with mental illness. Making art helps our kids with self-expression while enhancing coping skills, reducing stress, and boosting self-confidence.

Art therapy doesn’t have to be stuffy or skilled. Even the most basic art skills can become a powerful form of self-expression. Remember when your kids were small and you would pull out the craft box for them? Reinstate that activity, perhaps once a week, and just sit down with your children and some paper, colored pencils, paints, and anything else you have. Work side by side.

This doesn’t have to be “heavy” or “therapeutic” – just enjoy the act of making art together. You don’t have to talk about eating, not eating, anxiety or depression. Just be creative and enjoy each others’ company for a little while.

Dealing with big emotions

One word of warning: if your child is currently in a bad place emotionally, don’t be surprised if they create art that expresses their negative emotions. In fact, this is absolutely healthy. Your child is using art as it is meant to be used – to express emotions that are hard to communicate using words. Your child might also be using their art as a way to test whether you can handle the full expression of their emotions. Hint: handle it! This is an essential part of healing. Here’s some more about this.

Many teens find that art and writing are great ways to both express themselves and find out whether anyone (especially their parents) is paying attention to their emotional distress and can actually handle their needs.

This is a tough place to be. When you love your child, you do not want to come face to face with the ugly demons they feel inside. But remember that we all feel ugly demons sometimes, and most of the time artistic expression is not a cause for alarm. Art therapy is helpful in treating eating disorders exactly because it helps people get in touch with their feelings.

It is important that you do not express alarm at what your child creates. Instead, talk to your child about how the art makes them feel, and what they are trying to express with the art. Help them talk about their feelings. Here’s some more information about how to do this.

If you are concerned, or if it appears your child is in deep distress and/or traumatized, consider sharing the artwork with a therapist to help your child process the pain they are feeling.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Volunteering with your child may help with anxiety, depression, and eating disorder behaviors

If you live with a teenager, then you have probably noticed that it can be very challenging to connect with her or him. While it might have been easy to find things to do together when she was younger, as she grows up, it can be harder and harder to find common interests. But connection is more important than ever as she heals from her disorder.

Volunteering for a cause that she believes is important may be a great way to connect with a teen healing from an eating disorder like bulimia, binge eating disorder or anorexia.

Volunteering together puts you in neutral territory and takes the focus away from your relational dynamics at home, the work your family is doing in therapy, and her own body and mind. Simply getting away together, without the pressures of everyday life, and broadening both of your perspectives, may be very healing for both of you.

Here is a video we have about one child’s experience volunteering with horses:

Here are some of the benefits of volunteering:

Increase Connection

Volunteering is a great way to build connection with the community and with each other. Almost all volunteering opportunities provide a way for your teen to meet people outside of your typical socio/economic group. While your social circle, and that of your teen, is likely somewhat homogenous, volunteering provides an opportunity to see many different types of people working together for a common goal. It also helps your teen see you interact with different types of people. In the right environment, your teen may even learn to respect the skills and talents you have that drive her crazy at home when she sees them exhibited in a volunteer community.

Increase Happiness

Several scientific studies have linked volunteering to increased happiness. Scientists have even measured hormones and brain activity and noted that being helpful delivers immense pleasure. There is also the gratitude effect – we naturally learn to see the world through more grateful eyes when we volunteer. Of course, decreased loneliness and increased sense of community have also both been shown to increase happiness. Whatever the reason, if volunteering can increase your child’s happiness level, that’s a good thing!

Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression

Volunteering has been shown to have a profound impact on people’s overall psychological well-being. Stress and anxiety can dissipate when working alongside others towards a common goal. Working with animals has specifically been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Meanwhile, depression may decrease as you build connections with others and develop a support system.

Increase Self-Confidence

Your teen may act as if she knows everything, but there is a very good chance that she is hiding a lot of self-doubt about herself. When in her eating disorder, she has distorted views of the world and about herself that are harmful. Volunteering increases self-confidence and allows her to put her energy into something other than her body. Her role as a volunteer can give her a sense of pride and identity beyond her body. Volunteering also provides a strong sense of purpose, which has been shown to positively impact mood and mental health.

Here is a video some young volunteers made about their  work with rescue horses:

Some causes may be a better fit than others. For example, food-based volunteering opportunities may not be a great idea if your child is triggered by food. Volunteering with animals may be soothing in some environments, but distressing in others. Work with your child to identify a cause that is meaningful to him or her, and then work with his or her treatment team to ensure the fit is appropriate. A good resource for finding volunteering opportunities is

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.