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Validations for kids who have eating disorders

Simple validations for kids who have eating disorders (1)

When parents learn how to validate their kids’ feelings, kids become less defiant and more pleasant to be around. And for kids who have an eating disorder, validation can support the recovery process.

Validating a child’s feelings is incredibly simple, but it’s not natural for many of us. Most parents were raised in emotionally-distant households. Few of us experienced being validated as children, which is why we’re not likely to do it naturally for our own kids.

Luckily, it’s easy to learn how to validate our kids’ feelings, and the benefits are often spectacular.

Why validation is a powerful parenting strategy

When parents validate kids’ feelings, they create conditions that build:

  • Emotional Regulation: Children who believe their feelings are valid and important are able to regulate their emotions more easily. This means they aren’t subject to constant mood shifts and emotional outbursts. Additionally, when they do experience these, they can recover faster.
  • Emotional Resilience: Parents who validate their kids raise children who feel accepted and worthy of love. This makes them emotionally resilient and less vulnerable to addiction and mental disorders.
  • Stronger Relationships: Parents who validate their kids build a stronger relationship with them. Validation makes your kids feel more connected to you, and you also feel more connected to them.
  • Easier Kids: Kids who feel emotionally validated by their parents are easier to parent. They feel safe and secure in the relationship. Therefore they are more likely to trust that parents have their best interests at heart.

How to validate your kids’ feelings

Any parent can learn how to validate their kids’ feelings. It just takes some patience and practice. Here’s what to do:

  • Notice: You can’t validate a feeling unless you recognize that your child is having a feeling. Often feelings make us uncomfortable, so we try to dismiss or ignore them. Instead, notice that a feeling is happening.
  • Regulate Yourself: It’s likely that you have feelings about your child’s feelings. So take a moment to calm yourself down. It’s very hard to validate your child if you’re upset. Try the following steps:
    • Name: It helps to give a name to the feeling you think your child is having. Start with the big 3: anger, fear, and sadness. Then go beyond these feelings with additional words like disgust, shame, and jealousy. Giving a name to the feelings can help contain them so they don’t feel quite so overwhelming.
    • Source: Try to identify the source of the feelings. It may be obvious – maybe you said they can’t attend a party. But try to think through additional sources. For example, maybe they told their friends they were going to the party. Now they feel embarrassed that they can’t go.
    • Center: Now that you know the name of the feeling and the likely sources of the feeling, take a deep breath and center yourself. Only then should you provide validation.
  • Validate: Provide a statement that shows you understand and accept the feelings. Here are some examples:
    • It makes sense that you feel that way.
    • I can understand why you feel that way.
    • I’m here for you.
    • I bet you’re frustrated!
    • I hear you.
    • I’m sorry that you’re frustrated with me.
    • I imagine this is really hard for you.
    • Thank you for telling me how you feel.
    • Your emotions make sense.

Getting started

You may feel very strange making validating statements at first. And your child may be surprised when you do it for the first time. But stick with it. Over time, it will feel natural and normal, but it takes practice! Just try to find a validating statement that feels authentic in the moment. Remember that you’re not judging the feeling as good or bad; you’re just accepting the fact that the feeling exists.

3 validations for kids who have eating disorders

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then learning to validate your kids’ feelings is even more valuable. Here are three validations that are helpful for kids who have eating disorders.

1. You are loved

All of us long to be loved and to feel worthy of love just for the simple fact that we exist in the world. And the most foundational love of all comes from our parents. Our parents should love us for the simple reason that we are their children.

Many of us grew up in families that assumed love was implied, but it was rarely explicitly spoken. But children long to hear words about how loved and special they are. There is no risk of over-loving our kids. We don’t need to hold off on telling them we love them for any reason. 

Here are some validating phrases to say to children to express your love:

  • I love you just as you are.
  • You are worthy of my time and interest, and I’m happy to support you.
  • I am here for you. 
  • I know who you are and I accept you as you are.
  • Your emotions are not too much for me; they make sense to me.
  • I am here, you’re safe, I won’t go away no matter how big your feelings get.

2. You don’t have to be perfect

Some parents believe that their children should look a certain way or get certain grades or play a certain sport. To reinforce achievement goals, these parents may withdraw affection or criticize their children when they do not perform well. These parents are not monsters – they are operating under the assumption that we must push and drive our children to succeed. 

However, children cannot separate their performance from who they are as people. As a result, children who believe they must perform a certain way to gain their parents’ love tend to become perfectionists, which sets them up for eating disorders and can ironically hold them back from achieving. The more a child fears letting a parent down, the fewer risks that child will take. This negatively impacts their ability to achieve in life.

Here are some validating phrases to say to children to express your acceptance:

  • Mistakes are just a sign that you’re trying. They are not a sign that you can’t do it!
  • Screwing up is OK and doesn’t make you less lovable.
  • It’s OK not to be perfect, it doesn’t affect how I feel about you.
  • I will never be ashamed of you for trying something difficult.
  • I’m proud of you for taking that risk.
  • You acted out because you were in so much pain, not because you’re a bad person.
  • I love you no matter what … it isn’t contingent on making good grades or doing things “right.”

3. Your body is fine

Some parents believe that “good parents” should control and manage their children’s food and bodies. Our society, driven by diet culture, has sent many messages to parents suggesting that they are “bad” parents if they don’t worry about and try to influence their child’s weight. Parents worry they will be criticized if a child gains weight or lives on the higher end of the weight scale.

Children cannot separate their body from who they believe they are as a person. Parents who focus on their child’s appearance and criticize or feel badly about their children’s bodies pass along a deep sense of unease and discomfort that is fertile ground for eating disorders. Even if the parent never says anything out loud, children can sense parental disapproval and will feel bad about their bodies and themselves.

Here are some validating phrases to say to children to express that you accept their body as it is:

  • I trust your body to grow exactly as it needs to grow.
  • Your body is good the way it is.
  • I love you exactly as you are.
  • You are worthy of love regardless of the shape of your body.
  • Your weight doesn’t determine the love you receive. 
  • You can pursue health at any size.
  • What you eat does not determine your worth.
  • You don’t need to change your body to be loved.
  • Your body has to gain weight to grow, especially during puberty. It is not a sign that something is wrong.

Validation is good parenting

Validating our kids is soothing to their souls, and can help them grow strong and healthy – emotionally and physically. It may feel awkward, but remember to keep trying. Validating your kids is well worth the effort.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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3 tips for parents who have a child with an eating disorder

3 tips for parents who have a child with an eating disorder

These tips for parents who have a child with an eating disorder are about what you do, not about what your child does. This is because parents can change their own behavior, but we have very little control over our child’s behavior.

This becomes very apparent with an eating disorder diagnosis. Because no matter how much parents want a child to recover, they cannot make it happen with force. Parents who attend to what they do have power over and leave the things they don’t can make the greatest difference in recovery.

1. See your child for who they are

A child who has an eating disorder often surprises their parents. Most people who have eating disorders appear to be “good kids.” Few parents recognize the early signs of an eating disorders because they see the facade the child presents at home and to the world. To help a child recover, parents need to look deeper than surface behaviors and see the child for who they are.

For example, Marianne loves her daughter Tamara. But when Tamara was growing up, Marianne struggled to juggle parenting three kids with her career. Tamara, the middle child, believed that she was a burden.

To compensate, Tamara worked hard to be a good girl and make life easier for Marianne. She cooked dinner for the family, kept her room spotless, and always behaved at school. These were ways in which Tamara sought the love she needed from her mother. And while Marianne thought Tamara was amazing and wonderful, she didn’t realize that Tamara’s goodness was a performance in pursuit of love.

It was natural for Marianne to think that Tamara was a happy, good kid. And recognizing that Tamara had complicated feelings about Marianne’s career was really hard. Marianne realized that Tamara wasn’t just naturally “good;” she was performing a role in an attempt to gain love and affection.

Parents must look beyond kids’ performative roles and see the child within. Marianne now has the chance to show Tamara that she is not a burden, but a perfectly worthy child even when she doesn’t perform goodness.

The idea behind these tips is to show how parents can help with eating disorder recovery. And one of the biggest ways parents can help is by working on their relationship with their child. Parents can also help the child reimagine the roles they play within the family and in the world.

2. Understand what eating disorders are (and what they’re not)

Eating disorders come with behavioral symptoms. It’s all too easy for parents to think that the behaviors are the eating disorder. But in fact the behaviors are symptoms. And treating the symptoms will not necessarily lead to recovery from an eating disorder.

For example, when Tamara started bingeing and purging, she hid it from her parents. But as it got worse, Marianne caught on and got Tamara into treatment for her eating disorder. Marianne was understandably most interested in stopping the behaviors immediately. She didn’t want her little girl to binge eat and purge several times per day.

As a result, Marianne was frustrated when Tamara’s care providers took things slowly. They talked about family dynamics and mental health hygiene. She felt like it was a waste of her time to learn how to cope with Tamara’s anxiety when she really just needed to her to stop bingeing and purging.

But with time and education Marianne came to realize that rushing recovery wasn’t going to lead to long-term health. She slowed down and worked on learning skills that could improve the household environment. She learned how to talk about emotions, and the whole family got better at sharing their feelings.

As Tamara gradually recovered, Marianne could see that all the things she thought were a waste of time were actually essential to healing. As a mental disorder, eating disorders need to be treated on multiple levels. It’s not enough to be abstinent from the behaviors of an eating disorder. True healing comes when the person learns to cope with their emotions without their eating disorder.

These tips for parents acknowledge that while an eating disorder has physical symptoms, they are mental disorders. When parents attend to the mental and emotional side of the eating disorder, they’re often successful at reducing the need for the eating disorder.

3. Create a self-care plan

Parents are under tremendous pressure every day. We exist in a society that provides very little support to us in the best of times. In the worst of times, such as when we have a child who has an eating disorder, many of us can’t help but feel completely isolated and overwhelmed.

When Tamara was diagnosed with an eating disorder, Marianne was prepared to quit her job and devote all her time to Tamara’s recovery. But she loved her job. And while there is a lot that parents can do to help kids recover, it’s also important to maintain their own sense of identity and purpose throughout treatment.

Instead of quitting, Marianne put together a self-care plan to help her support Tamara’s recovery. She looked at all aspects of her own health, including sleep, fitness, eating, joy, and support. Marianne made sure she got enough sleep each night and was eating and moving her body in ways that felt good. She gave up dieting and intense exercise classes and instead adopted Intuitive Eating and enjoyable outdoor walks with her friends. Marianne also got a mentor to support her through Tamara’s recovery.

This may sound like a pipe dream, but mothers have a long history of not taking care of ourselves. This tendency, rather than helping our kids, actually leaves us depleted and less able to help. Think of the airplane warning: adults should always put on their own oxygen masks before they help a child. This is because we can’t help others if we’re gasping for breath.

By bolstering her own self-care, Marianne became a powerful member of Tamara’s recovery team. Her steady, conscious support went a long way towards helping Tamara recover.


Final thoughts

Remember that while of course you want your child to recover as quickly as possible, your main goal should actually be to understand and support your child on their unique path to recovery. Parents who do this can make a tremendous positive impact on their child’s recovery. You show up and do what you can, but you also accept what you can’t do.

This approach may feel like the easy way out, but it’s definitely not. It’s actually a lot harder for parents to learn the boundaries around what they can and cannot do for their kids than it is to dive in and try to fix everything for them. Think of when your child was struggling to build something using blocks. Wasn’t it harder to watch them struggle than to just dive in and build the castle for them? Monitoring and managing our own anxiety about what our kids go through is a lot of work, so don’t underestimate the effort required.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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How to stay married when your child has an eating disorder

How to stay married when your child has an eating disorder

Couples can take active steps to stay married when their child has an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a major stressor in a marriage, and can lead to distance and even divorce.

Eating disorders, like other mental health diagnoses, can turn a family upside down. And even parents who felt their marriage was relatively stable may now feel at odds with each other. Deciding about treatment, acceptable behavior, and the day-to-day management of a child in crisis is exhausting. That’s why it’s so important to make a commitment to your marriage right from the start.

The most common reasons that married couples risk divorce when a child has an eating disorder are:

  1. Disagreements about treatment
  2. Not prioritizing your marriage
  3. Trying to be strong
  4. One person does more than the other
  5. Blaming self and/or spouse for the problem
  6. Looking elsewhere for comfort

All of these risks can be managed – it is very possible to stay married and even to deepen your relationship when your child has an eating disorder. We’ve detailed some ideas below.


1. Disagreements about treatment

Most parents know very little about eating disorders. This, combined with a lack of evidence-based treatment paths, leaves parents wondering exactly how to manage the eating disorder and get their child healthy again.

Typically, one partner will take the eating disorder more seriously than the other one. This partner may be the person who is sounding the alarm, taking the child to the doctor, and pleading with the child to eat normally again. The other partner may dismiss the eating disorder or think they can tell the child to eat more and everything will be fine.

Many parents find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding whether to get treatment for their child’s eating disorder. One thing we know is that eating disorders rarely go away by themselves. Also, eating disorders are best dealt with quickly rather than left to fester and grow. Early, thorough treatment is best. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for both people in the marriage to agree on exactly what makes up thorough treatment.

If you and your partner are disagreeing about whether to treat your child or how to treat your child, schedule a consultation with an eating disorder professional. They can help you discuss your shared goals and define where you disagree. They can also provide insight into treatment options and help you find common ground. This will help you gain clarity about the disorder your child faces and get you talking about common goals. By facing the challenge together, you can actually strengthen your married bond during eating disorder recovery.

2. Not prioritizing your marriage

Most parents are already juggling plenty of tasks. When a child develops an eating disorder, it can seem impossible to find time to get everything done. Now, on top of all your regular responsibilities, you also have to get them back and forth for doctor’s and therapist appointments while also creating a home environment that supports recovery.

If you are both working and have other children, getting everything done is a massive undertaking. As soon as possible, sit down and have a “state of our marriage” discussion. Talk to each other about your priorities and discuss how you can keep your marriage on the list.

You may need to cut down on some of your couple activities to accommodate your child’s eating disorder treatment. But don’t ignore your marriage or set it aside during this time. It’s OK to take date nights. You may even consider a brief vacation or getaway together. Check with your child’s treatment team, but usually they will support couples who invest in each other. The couples that stay married through an eating disorder make their marriage a priority.

3. Trying to be strong

It’s normal for parents facing an eating disorder to feel scared and even angry. Lots of people think that eating disorders are a symptom of bad parenting. The stigma of an eating disorder can make parents feel isolated and ashamed. Eating disorders are also difficult and expensive to treat. Eating disorders are stressful for parents and the entire family. This is not the time to clam up and turn away from each other. Instead, have open, vulnerable conversations about how the eating disorder is affecting each of you.

Be intentional about talking to each other about what you’re struggling with. Sometimes you need to complain about a situation brought about by a child’s illness. Because not talking about it can create caverns of isolation that keep you each trapped in your own pain and suffering.

It’s important to realize that while your child has the diagnosis, everyone in the family will feel the impact of the eating disorder. You deserve help and support during this time.

This is not the time to be strong, but a time to open up to each other and trusted friends, family members, and professionals who can share your burden. Trying to be strong or do this alone will add to the strain on your marriage and make it vulnerable.

4. One person does more than the other

Most couples have to balance the requirements of family life with their careers, friendships, and hobbies. In most couples, women take on more of the family labor than men. This includes housework, cooking, taking kids to doctor’s appointments, and more.

If you have a child with an eating disorder, the family labor requirements can double or triple. If you already have an imbalance of family labor in your marriage, then the eating disorder diagnosis could completely overwhelm one partner (often the mother). Taking children to treatment sessions, monitoring food, exercise, and eating habits, and other day-to-day management activities are intense.

It’s important to talk to your partner about the labor involved in running the household and also managing a sick child. It makes sense that each of you will need to increase family labor. This could mean a decrease in your time for work, friendships, and hobbies. Make sure you’re talking to each other about how the eating disorder is being managed amongst other household tasks, or one partner could end up feeling resentful and burned out.

The eating disorder diagnosis will exacerbate any existing inequality in the marriage, so it’s best to stay on top of this conversation throughout treatment.


5. Blaming self and/or spouse for the problem

It is normal to want to place blame when something goes wrong. And when a child is sick, we naturally want to find someone on which to place the blame. Eating disorders are complex, biopsychosocial disorders. This means they arise from a combination of biological, psychological, and social conditions. No single person, event, or condition causes an eating disorder. No parent is ever responsible for an eating disorder.

But that doesn’t stop couples from blaming either themselves or each other. When we blame ourselves, we believe that our actions or beliefs caused the eating disorder. And while parents often change their beliefs and behavior when there is an eating diagnosis, that doesn’t mean it’s their fault.

Likewise, it’s unhelpful to blame a partner for a child’s eating disorder. Parents who are seeking to blame others for the eating disorder have less energy to invest in their child’s recovery from an eating disorder.

The best thing is to work together to address any beliefs and behaviors that may contribute to the eating disorder. Take action to provide a safe and healthy environment for your child’s recovery rather than blaming anyone for its existence.

6. Looking elsewhere for comfort

Sometimes the pressure of a child’s eating disorder feels like it’s too much for the couple to handle. One or both partners may turn to people and things outside of the marriage for comfort. For example, some partners will increase behaviors like drinking, shopping, or gambling. These behaviors are an attempt to avoid the pain and struggle of having a child with an eating disorder. But they will drive a wedge between the person and their family, and put the marriage at risk.

Other times, partners will seek other people for comfort. Infidelity can become much more attractive when a partner feels ignored, angry, or scared at home. A child’s eating disorder can make an affair seem like the only pleasure available in life. But, of course, having an affair will only make life harder for everyone in the family.

If you notice that the gap between you and your partner is growing, take steps now to repair and come together. The more you can face the eating disorder as a team, the greater your chances of success. And the good news is that parents who maintain and deepen their relationships can help their child recover from an eating disorder. This is because a healthy family makes recovery easier and safer for the child.

Your marriage can survive this

The good news is that marriages can survive a child’s eating disorder. In fact, some people find that having a child go through eating disorder recovery strengthens their families and marriages. The key is to recognize the potential pitfalls and working to turn towards each other rather than away. When a couple works together to support a child in eating disorder recovery, they can survive.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Unlock the best way to parent a difficult child

What is the best way to parent a difficult child

Many parents wonder what is the best way to parent a difficult child. There are two common paths in our culture. One way is to bring down the hammer and increase control in the household. A second approach is to throw up your hands and give up on trying to change things. Of course, you may still complain about your child’s behavior, but you have no hope of being effective.

Common ways to parent a difficult child

Let’s start by exploring these two very different types of parenting methods we see most often in the media and among friends, family, and in our own households.

1. Controlling parents assert that they are always right. They attempt to control the child’s behavior and thoughts in order to achieve success. When children make mistakes, they are reprimanded and punished. The challenge is that children in these households typically rebel or lose themselves. They tend to lack self-control and intrinsic motivation.

2. Permissive parents feel helpless and unable to positively impact their kids. They tend to feel victimized by the child’s behavior. They may not have the time or resources to actively parent their kids. Or they may have been parented by controlling parents when they were children. They are now over-correcting in an attempt to avoid putting their own children through the same thing.

3. Swing parents go between the two extremes of controlling and permissiveness. They buckle down and put punishments and rules in place, only to give up when their child fights back, sneaks out, or does anything else to push against the controlling measures. Swinging between two polarities can leave kids feeling insecure and more likely to act up. This can create an exhausting cycle for both parents and kids.

A more effective way to parent a difficult child

But there is another, more effective method of parenting that is far more likely to help a difficult child and make being a parent easier. Assertive parents build their parental relationships on mutual respect and trust. With clear boundaries between who they are and who their kids are, they recognize their kids’ unique personalities and strengths.

They don’t feel threatened when their child makes mistakes or doesn’t want to do something the parent cares about. They seek ways to enhance the child’s natural strengths and interests and create situations in which the child can learn to face developmentally-appropriately hardship. This approach builds safety and grit.

When children make mistakes, they are spoken to with kindness and understanding. But assertive parents also have boundaries and rules. They collaborate with their kids to set goals and make changes. They have confidence that the child is doing the best they can.

Difficult children are harder to parent

There is no single definition of what makes a child “difficult,” but one thing is clear, and it’s that parenting feels hard, even impossible.

When parents look back at a difficult child’s evolution they may see a child who was wonderful and then suddenly became difficult. Or they may see a child who has always been a challenge. Maybe they see a baby who was fussy, a toddler who was demanding, and the inevitable out of control teenager.

It makes a lot of sense that when we have a hard time with something, we assign blame to the thing that is causing us problems. In the case of parenting, we tend to think there is something wrong with the child.

And it may be true that you have a highly-sensitive child, a child who has special needs or a learning disability. Maybe you have a child who, through no fault of yours, experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that have led to trauma. But it’s important to remember that relationships are between two or more people, and when we have a relationship problem, everyone in the relationship plays a role.

We are always and forever in a relationship with our child. And how we respond to and accommodate their difficulties impacts the relationship and the people within it. Sometimes we accidentally make a challenging child even more difficult to parent, even though that’s the exact opposite of what we want!

Making parenting easier

When we look at a child who is difficult to parent, people often begin by thinking about what is wrong with the child. But we miss a lot if we don’t look at how they have been shaped by the parent-child relationship.

This can be so challenging, and it is not coming from a place of parent blaming and shaming. But the fact is that we impact our children when we parent them. And we can often help our children if we acknowledge our own role in how they are behaving and feeling.

In fact, we can usually make parenting easier for ourselves if we work on how we parent our kids.

Almost nobody learns how to be a great parent

Our kids are handed over to us, and very few of us have any training in how to be a good parent. In fact, most of us learned everything we know from our own parents, who were likely untrained themselves, and television, movie, and book families, which are almost always over-simplified and deeply flawed. This incomplete education leaves us vulnerable to parenting mistakes.

If we were parented by controlling parents, we may do the same automatically. Or we will swing the opposite direction and become permissive. Most of us actually swing between controlling and permissive, which creates a very confusing environment for our kids.

Negative behaviors like using alcohol, sex, drugs, cigarettes, lying, cheating, poor grades, skipped classes, shoplifting, sexual promiscuity, vandalism, and eating disorders thrive when parents are not taught how to create a stable parent-child relationship.

This does not mean that parents are responsible for kids’ bad behavior, but it does mean that there are things parents can do to help kids find a healthier path.

Here are the steps parents can take to parent a difficult child:

1. Forgive yourself

The first step in learning to parent a difficult child is to forgive yourself. Many parents who have challenging kids are living with deep shame about their “failure” as parents. Work with someone who can help you process and work through that shame.

We all come from somewhere, and we all do our very best for our kids. The fact that your child is difficult is not your fault, but there is something you can do about it. And it all begins with having compassion for yourself.

2. Learn

Next, learn as much as you can about parenting. Focus your attention on understanding attachment. We have several articles on this topic, including:

There are some excellent books that teach the neuroscience of connection and safety, which underlie healthy parent-child relationships. Some of our favorites include:

Learn everything you can about healthy parent-child relationships. Most parents feel understandably defensive about parenting issues. But try to keep an open mind. Curiosity is the very first ingredient you need to learn something new.

3. Listen

One of the first things we lose when we have a difficult child is our ability to listen to them without judgment. This is because we’ve built a mountain of complaints and assumptions about them. But healing will come from compassion, not controlling or giving up. And compassion can only thrive in a safe space when a child feels like you listen to them.

Open up conversations about their choices, goals, and regrets. Truly listen as you would listen to your best friend. This will be more likely to put you in a place of acceptance and empathy, which will build trust in your relationship.

Give them space to express themselves imperfectly. Don’t jump in to tell them how they should have done something instead, how they should be looking at the problem, or any other form of advice. Most people will find their way to the right answer for them if given time and trust.

4. Repair

It makes perfect sense if you believe that your child has harmed you and that they are the ones who should be apologizing. But difficult children are unlikely to apologize unless they feel safe. And the best way to build safety is for you to repair any mistakes that you have made.

It costs nothing and will make a significant impact if you apologize to your child for past mistakes. This doesn’t mean you are taking the blame for their behavior, but it does mean you are taking responsibility for your behavior. Here are some examples:

  • Olivia, when I found out you were drinking, I yelled and completely lost my temper. I imagine that was probably scary. I’m really sorry.
  • Bryan, I realize that we were slow to get you the help you needed for your ADHD. I want to apologize for how my hesitation to get treatment for you impacted your early years in school,. I know that it has made school harder for you. I’m sorry.
  • Tisha, while I wish you were able to recover from your eating disorder, I realize that when I shamed you for eating those cookies, that was wrong. My anger was unhelpful, and I can see that what you need is support, not punishment. I’m sorry.

Some parents might worry that these statements let the child off the hook for their behavior. But quite the opposite often happens. When parents consistently work to repair their own mistakes and demonstrate vulnerability, their child is more likely to apologize for their own behavior.

5. Show up

When a child is difficult, it’s natural for the parent to want to spend less time with them. It’s frustrating and often exhausting to be with a child who is acting out. But building a safe, healthy parent-child relationship is the fastest route to transforming your situation.

Find ways to show up for your child. Eat meals together, go for walks together, watch their sports games or video game tournaments, and share time as often as possible. It’s all too easy to hide behind screens and doors today, but a difficult child needs their parents to show up and make space for this very important relationship.

Even if your child says they don’t want you around, they need you. Children need their parents, even when they are old and even if they have a complicated relationship. Just because your child is angry, withdrawn, or acting out doesn’t mean they don’t need your presence in their life.

Assertive parenting makes kids easier & more likely to succeed

Assertive parents are more likely to have kids who are easier to parent and also more likely to succeed emotionally and behaviorally. Some core components of assertive parenting include:

  • An expectation that parents and children each behave respectfully and honestly
  • Respect for the parent and child as individual people who have sovereignty over their own lives and choices
  • High expectations of positive behavior both within and outside of the relationship
  • Honest communication
  • Dedication to building a healthy parent-child relationship
  • Compassionate, positive interactions
  • Parents set boundaries and have authority to make decisions around the child’s health and safety
  • Empathy for each other

The assertive parenting model allows our children to live life on their own terms, even while living within acceptable conduct in the home and society.

Our kids will thrive under assertive parenting in ways that they will never thrive under controlling or permissive parenting. They will develop a strong sense of self, high self-esteem, and a powerful belief in their own self-worth.

And yes, they may still rebel. They may still be difficult to parent sometimes. But that’s because they are human beings living a human life, not because they are acting out against overly-rigid or permissive parents.

They may still develop eating disorders and do things like sneak out to go to a party and get drunk and call us to come and pick them up. But if they can rest assured of the safety of our relationship, they are more likely to thrive anyway.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Back to school: mental health tips for parents

Back to school: mental health tips for parents

As we head back to school this year, mental health has never been more important for parents and kids. Rates of anxiety, depression, suicidality, substance abuse and eating disorders are all on the rise. Parents can make a significant positive impact on kids’ mental health by following these mental health tips.

  1. Set up a morning routine
  2. Stay organized
  3. Set up a sleep hygiene system
  4. Get support for yourself
  5. Go easy on yourself (and your kids)

Parents often focus on kids’ behavioral issues and try to fix them. But there is very little we can do to change behaviors unless we address the underlying issues. Sure, we can attempt to control our kids, but it rarely improves mood and behavioral disorders like eating disorders.


If your child has a problem you may believe that the only thing you can do is get your child into treatment. And it’s true that treatment may be necessary for them to heal. But there are also lots of things that parents can do to impact kids’ mental health. And they don’t cost a dime!

Parental behavior can have a larger impact on kids’ behavior and mental health than any other form of intervention. While this may seem daunting, changing our own behavior is often less stressful and time-intensive than attempting to fix our kids.

5 back to school tips for parents who want to improve kids’ mental health

Here are the five things parents can do to improve their kids’ mental health during back to school and beyond.

1. Set up a morning routine

We thrive on routine, and yet most of us resist structure and routine? Why? Because adopting a new routine can add more stress temporarily. But we know for sure that when we implement a morning routine and stick to it, our health improves. A morning routine is shown to reduce stress and improve sleep, eating, and physical condition.

If you have a child who has a mental health condition, a morning routine can be exactly what you need to improve their health. Parents must be in charge of and the key implementors of morning routines. It’s not enough to list out what must be done and expect kids to follow through. Part of the benefit of a family morning routine is the engagement it creates for parents and their kids.

But don’t worry: a morning routine doesn’t need to be complicated or take a ton of time. It can be simple as this:

  • Everyone wakes up at 6:30 a.m.
  • Brush teeth, hair, and get dressed by 7 a.m.
  • Gather for breakfast at 7 a.m.
  • Pick at least 2 ready-to-go breakfast items: cereal, milk, fruit, toast, hard-boiled eggs, pre-cooked bacon, nut/seed butter
  • Finish breakfast and leave the house by 7:30 a.m.

You can certainly adjust the timeline based on what works for your family. You may need to start earlier or later depending on your schedules. But aim to get all children and at least one parent involved in the morning routine every day.

2. Stay organized

Parents have a lot going on right now. It’s hard to juggle work and raising children. Our society does not make this easy for parents. We get it. And at the same time, it’s important for parents to stay organized and keep family life moving smoothly.

You are not expected to do this perfectly, but the more organized you remain, the better your kids’ mental health. Family organization varies for each family, but at a minimum, it should include the following elements:

  • A shared family calendar so that everyone knows about upcoming events, appointments, etc.
  • A weekly review of the week to come in which schedules are discussed and adjusted if needed
  • Organized work spaces that are stocked with pens, paper, chargers, laptops, and everything else that is needed to work at home
  • Regular meal times at which the majority of the family gathers at least once per day
  • Consistent bed times
  • Clear chore assignments for every member of the family

Every family will do this a little differently, but these elements combine to create a safe, structured environment in which kids’ mental health can thrive.

3. Set up a sleep hygiene system

Does your family believe in sleep hygiene? Have you taught the importance of following a sleep schedule to ensure that all of you get adequate sleep?

Most parents spend a lot of time thinking about nutrition, but very little time thinking about sleep. But sleep is probably the single most important element of physical and mental health. The diet industry spends billions per year telling people they are eating wrong. But the sleep industry has not done the same for sleep.

Getting enough sleep impacts every element of health:

Cognitive health: sleep improves concentration, productivity, and the ability to think clearly (it makes us smarter)

Mental health: adequate sleep is strongly associated with lower rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions

Physical health: sleep improves metabolism, cardiovascular health, endurance, speed, and coordination

A sleep hygiene system will help your entire family be healthier. Make sure you all apply sleep hygiene – parents need sleep as much as children do!

  • Establish a regular bedtime for each person
  • Turn off electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • Create a night-time routine – use this time to connect with your child(ren) before sleep. Take time to connect with your partner and yourself, too!
  • Aim for the right amount of sleep every night based on the CDC’s sleep recommendations
  • Wake up at the same time every day

Parents can make a huge improvement in their kids’ mental health during back to school and beyond with sleep hygiene alone.


4. Get support

Many parents are running on empty. They are juggling multiple responsibilities and trying to do it all with very little support. Parenting today is very stressful. We expect a lot of ourselves, and the conditions are unprecedented.

The United States is based on principles of individuation and self efficacy. But humans evolved to work in groups and support each other. This discrepancy is why so many parents feel unsupported and isolated. You may think you can handle the stress, but it negatively impacts your kids.

Parental stress is a huge stressor for kids, and it has a significant impact on their mental health. Kids who have stressed parents experience more cortisol, and that impacts their cognitive, mental, and physical health.

But don’t let this stress you out more! You just need to get more support. Build up your support structure so that you don’t pass your stress onto your kids:

  • Connect with other parents so you can share stories and swap babysitting if needed
  • Find a support group if your child has a challenge. For example, there are support groups for parents who have kids with autism, ADHD, eating disorders, substance abuse, cancer, diabetes, etc.
  • Get therapy or coaching if you are struggling with your child’s diagnosis and care

5. Go easy on yourself (and your kids)

Give yourself a lot of leeway for making mistakes. Our kids don’t need us to be perfect. They need us to keep trying. Most parents worry that if they don’t know how to do something or if their child gets upset when they try, they should give up. But this is exactly the opposite of what we should do.

Kids need us to have resilience and persistence when it comes to our relationship with them. The only way we can be resilient is if we go easy on ourselves. We will not be resilient if we’re beating ourselves up or constantly criticizing ourselves for getting it wrong or being bad parents. We have to give ourselves grace and time to try new things. Parenting takes time and effort, but it does get easier with practice. And parents can learn to do things better and more effectively. Get support from a therapist or coach if you need help with this.

And kids also need us to go easy on them. The more a child is acting up or driving us crazy, the more they need us. Parents tend to think that a difficult child needs more control and dominance. But in fact these children need us to have compassion and empathy for them. Healthy children have parents who accept them and trust them to find their own path even in difficult times.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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How to listen to your child non-defensively

How to listen to your child non-defensively

Parents, it’s important to learn to listen to your child non-defensively. This means you take in what they are saying and accept their words without pushing back against them.

This is difficult, as most of us feel very defensive about our parenting. When a child tells us we upset them, we want to fight back and protect our right to parent as we see fit.

But a child’s deepest wish is to be truly seen, heard, and nurtured by their parent. When we respond to a child’s complaint with defensiveness, we cannot meet their fundamental need to feel loved and accepted.

When we listen to our child non-defensively, we’re embarking on a practice. It’s not something that we have to “master” or “perfect.” It’s OK to try our best and try again and again.

Here are the steps to listen to your child non-defensively:

When stuck in a loop of defensive listening, it can take time to learn to listen to your child non-defensively. It will also take them some time to trust that you won’t get defensive. Here are the steps to listen to your child non-defensively:

  1. Recognize that your child is making a complaint
  2. Take a deep breath and acknowledge your desire to fight back
  3. Say something that invites them to explain more
  4. Listen with compassion and patience
  5. Respond by acknowledging their feelings
  6. Tell them what you will do next

Most of us naturally tend towards defensive communication. Our society and parenting practices indoctrinate us into a system of power struggles between parent and child. Defensive communication is so common that we rarely recognize that we have the power to change the dynamic and improve our lives.

Signs that you may need to listen to your child non-defensively:

When you haven’t learned to listen to your child non-defensively, you may see some signs of distress in your child and yourself. It’s disruptive and uncomfortable, and it’s a symptom of a relationship that needs repair. Here are the signs that you need to learn to listen to your child non-defensively:

  1. It seems impossible to have a rational conversation with your child
  2. Talking to your child usually results in someone getting mad and/or screaming and/or crying
  3. Your child accuses you of dominating and not understanding their needs
  4. Your child stops talking to you altogether
  5. Conversations quickly turn to contempt and blaming

Let’s take a deeper dive into how we can practice non-defensive listening with our children.

1. Recognize that your child is making a complaint

We can’t interrupt and change a pattern unless we can recognize when it is happening. The first step in non-defensive listening is to recognize that our child has just made a complaint.

This is important because when children complain, parents immediately become defensive. Rather than fall into our usual habit of defending our right-ness, parents who recognize a child’s complaint can reduce their frequency and intensity.

Children rarely make direct complaints of their parents. If they do, that’s easy! But if your child is less confident, they may use behavior to make passive complaints. These are just as valid as direct complaints and include:

  • Using more swear words than usual
  • Ignoring you
  • Stalling when asked to do something
  • Pushing, throwing, kicking, etc.
  • Refusing to cooperate or do something when asked.

It’s important to note that the last point – refusing to cooperate – includes dangerous behaviors such as eating disorders, substance use, sleeping all day, etc.

2. Take a deep breath and acknowledge your desire to fight back

Once you recognize that your child is making a complaint, take a deep breath. You need to create space between their behavior, which is instantly aggravating, and how you respond.

If you react before thinking and acknowledging your own response to their complaint, you will remain stuck in defensive communication.

Take a breath. On the in-breath say to yourself: this is hard. On the out-breath say to yourself: I know.

This is a mindfulness technique in which we acknowledge the difficulty of our situation and send ourselves compassion in the moment. Repeat this breathing technique throughout the conversation to help you stay present and aware.

3. Say something that invites them to explain more

You may need a few more minutes to breathe and gain your composure. Criticism is deeply triggering for most of us. So it helps to ask your child to tell you more about their complaint.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a powerful way to defuse tense situations. A complaint is essentially a way that our child is trying to tell us they need something. Give them the floor so that you can hear what they are actually asking for.

For example, if your child is refusing to do something, you can say “what does [doing the thing they’re resisting] mean to you?”

If a child is yelling obscenities, you can say “I can hear how angry you are. Can you tell me more about that?”

If you’re smirking right now, assuming this will not go well, that’s OK. Try it anyway. Just because something hasn’t worked in the past for you or you believe it will not work, try it anyway. If we have been in a pattern of defensive listening with our children, it will take time and practice for these conversations to flow. Keep trying!

4. Listen with compassion and patience

Most of us listen intending to respond. We spend the time while the other person is speaking coming up with our response. It feels like we are being more reasonable than the other person. We think if we just say the right thing in the right way, the conversation will resolve.

But conversations in which we are not listening to the other person – attending both to what is said, body language, and subtext – do not resolve.

We must practice listening to the person with an attitude of compassion and patience. We must listen to hear what they are trying to tell us.

Practice not even thinking about your response. Instead, think about what they are trying to communicate.

Our children almost invariably are complaining for a single reason: they feel we are not caring for them. Telling a person we care for them will not make them feel cared for. The only way a person will feel cared for is if we show them we care by listening.

5. Respond by acknowledging their feelings

Do not respond to your child’s complaint with justification for why you did what you did. Don’t respond with reasons your requests are reasonable and should be followed.

A child’s complaint is an exposure of their most vulnerable self. And our vulnerable selves are not looking for rationale and intellectualism. Our children are looking for us to see, hear, and nurture them.

We see, hear, and nurture a child by acknowledging their feelings.

When we accept a child’s feelings as valid and valuable, we transform their self-confidence. It may seem strange, but when we validate our children’s feelings, they complain less. They just need not try so hard when they feel justified for having feelings. Here are some ways to acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings:

  • I hear you
  • I get it. Let’s talk about this some more.
  • It sounds like [recap their feelings*]
  • Let me see if I understand. What you’re saying is [recap their feelings*]
  • I can understand why this feels unfair
  • It makes sense that you’re feeling this way
  • Sometimes I miss the signals you’re sending me, and I’m sorry about that
  • I’m sorry I said that to you. It sounds like it made you feel [recap their feelings*]
  • It sounds like when I did that it made you feel [recap their feelings*]

*when you do this, pay careful attention to your own feelings. Make sure you are not feeling contempt for your child’s feelings. They will sense it immediately, and the conversation will devolve.

6. Tell them what you will do next

Once you have validated your child’s feelings, it’s time to move onto next steps. Our impulse is to clamp down and tell our child that they need to just get over it and/or do what we asked them to do. But a more effective approach is to let your child know what you will do next. Here’s an example:

  1. Your child threw a tantrum because you asked them to take out the trash.
  2. You listened and understand that the genuine issue is that your child feels you ask them to do more than their sibling.
  3. You validated your child for feeling indignation over the unfairness of chores.
  4. You say “OK, well I will pay attention to this, and I’d like you to keep talking to me about it. Let’s work together to see how we can maintain equity in our home.”

Notice: you are not saying that it’s true, you treat them unfairly. You are not taking the blame for being a terrible parent. Your child has feelings that are valid, and you’re treating them respectfully.

Now that you have gone through this, decide the best next course of action. Perhaps it is to still ask the child to take out the trash. In fact, they may do this easily and with little grumbling once they feel validated.

Maybe you will take the trash out together to repair the relationship and show them that you are committed to your relationship. You have lots of choices. Just remember that the relationship in this moment is more important than the actual task of taking out the trash.

Is this all a bunch of BS?

If you’re reading this and thinking that parents are getting “too soft” and that it’s all very ridiculous, that makes sense. Most of us are raised to believe that parents should put their relationships with their children first.

In fact, most of us are raised to believe that we should obey parents and parents should maintain their power in the relationship at all times. But take a glance at the “Signs that you may need to work on your non-defensive listening skills” listed above.

They are very unpleasant. Often they are even life threatening and could cause long-term complications for both our children and ourselves. Life is not easier when we try to control our children. In fact, life is awful when we try to control our kids.

Life is infinitely easier and more pleasant when we listen non-defensively and validate our kids’ feelings.

When we do this, we’re more likely to build a healthy environment for our children and increase the chances of our children maintaining close, healthy bonds to us for life.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Helping a child recover from an eating disorder prepared me for parenting in a pandemic

by Oona Hanson

Some of the most poignant essays about parenting during the coronavirus have come from families who have already experienced a quarantine or the sustained care of an immunocompromised loved one.

I started thinking about how living through a child’s serious illness helped build my own family’s resilience and confidence as we prepare to weather this current storm. 

Having a child develop a life-threatening eating disorder and undergo a number of different treatment programs (all of which were traumatic in their own right) taught us so many skills that are applicable in this moment. I am deeply grateful for the painful lessons we learned.

1. Opting out of socializing is nothing new to us

During certain phases of the illness and treatment, we were house-bound. For nearly a year, eating in restaurants wasn’t an option because it would paralyze our sick child with fear. Staying home to monitor meals and physical activity became a new normal. At other times, we simply didn’t have the energy to see friends. Even though I’m extroverted by nature, I had a physical aversion to being in a group or making small talk. Self-isolating was the choice I had to make for my own self-care, even when it meant making sacrifices. Knowing I turned down the chance to cheer on my beloved Dodgers (from a private box!) reminds me I can survive without longed-for special outings and celebrations.

2. Panic-buying, hoarding, and rationing don’t ruffle us

The responses to seeing long lines or empty grocery store shelves make perfect sense when you consider how evolution has primed us to endure the threat of famine. A feeling of scarcity can trigger a variety of behaviors intended to boost the chances of survival for an individual or their family group. Understanding these biological reactions helps me withhold judgement of others and keeps my own anxiety from spiraling when I see certain supplies running low.

3. We aren’t afraid of meals and snacks that aren’t “fresh,” “perfectly balanced,” or what diet culture would deem “healthy”

We had to kick the diet mentality to the curb a long time ago, so we already follow this mantra: all foods fit. Comfort food is always welcome, and we know it’s normal to have particular, often nostalgic, cravings during times of uncertainty. Rather than worry about calories or micronutrients, we know we’re better off reducing our anxiety around nutrition and that neutralizing foods–not elevating or demonizing them–decreases their power over us. Our new approach to eating, more relaxed and peaceful, is actually healthier than ever. 

4. We learned how to menu-plan

I had long aspired to be someone who could plan ahead and shop for a week’s worth of groceries, but I never seemed to follow through–until I had to. During the nutritional rehabilitation phase of family-based treatment, we had to plan out three meals and three snacks a day–taking into account the need for variety, high energy content, and systematic exposure to “fear foods.” Meal-planning and shopping became like a puzzle that demanded focus, creativity, and flexibility–skills we are using regularly during this new normal of socially-distant, hit-or-miss grocery shopping.

5. We know it’s okay to mourn the little things

Although health and safety are always the top priority, we learned how important it is to grieve the loss of other parts of life–the cancellation of long-planned adventures, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and what-would-have-been annual traditions. It’s important to let ourselves feel sad when our hopes and dreams–and even our ordinary expectations–are dashed.

6. Relaxing certain rules can be healing and joyful

At an intensive eating disorder treatment program, we were shown the power of meal-time distraction for patients learning to eat again–in the form of watching old episodes of “The Office.” It was hard at first to let go of our old “no-TV-at-dinner” rule (other than during baseball playoffs, that is!). It helped us see there are times for putting aside rigid rules when the game changes; different seasons of life call for different approaches–not to mention the fact that enjoying humor as a family can buoy you through some really stormy days.

7. We’ve learned how to discuss hard things

Talking openly about mental health is a skill we had to develop. It’s such a relief now to be able to check in with each other and be able to speak more matter-of-factly about painful feelings. Being open and direct about the tough stuff didn’t come naturally to us, but it got easier with practice.  

In our darkest days, it was hard to find hope, particularly as eating disorder recovery is seldom a linear process. Fear, especially of the unknown, can make it nearly impossible to function. But it doesn’t have to break you. 

I believe wholeheartedly in the possibility of post-traumatic growth. And I recognize it’s a great privilege to have access to the support and care you need to get through pain and loss in one piece.

All parents are struggling in one way or another right now. And I’m hopeful families will come through this experience even stronger, with deeper wells of gratitude, resilience, and wisdom. In the meantime, we need to go easy on ourselves and remember that this, too, shall pass.

In education for over twenty years, Oona Hanson works as a parent coach, supporting parents of teens and tweens. Passionate about helping kids develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies, she runs the Facebook page “Parenting Without Diet Culture” and gives parent education workshops on body image resilience and eating disorder prevention. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and a Master’s degree in English. Oona lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. You can follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook: “Oona Hanson–Parent Coaching.” To learn more, visit

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How parents can help prevent eating disorders during coronavirus quarantine

We are all stuck inside, tensions are high, and fear is off the charts. Our kids already have the highest rates of anxiety and depression we have ever seen. And now it just got much, much worse. During this period, our kids are at higher risk of developing food and body issues, and even full-blown eating disorders. 


Because food and body issues are the perfect cover-up for anxiety.

Think about it: we can’t control anything in our lives right now. Coronavirus has thrown off every schedule and plan for the future. Our kids’ school years are canceled. Dances, graduations, and even everyday “boring” school suddenly is something they miss deeply. 

And parents are in the unenviable position of having no answers. We can’t confidently predict when quarantine will end. We can’t say for sure that everything is going to be OK. It will, eventually, but we don’t really know when or exactly what “OK” will look like. 

So in situations in which we have very little control, what do we reach for? Things that we can control. And right now, the one thing we think we can control is how much we eat, what we eat, and what we do with our bodies. 

Eating disorders are devastating. They require intensive treatment. Families who deal with eating disorders will quickly assure you that you don’t want one in your family. 

But the conditions are ripe for new eating disorders right now. 

body image for girls ebook

Here are things parents can do to help their kids stay mentally and physically healthy during coronavirus quarantine. Our goal is to create an environment that is body-positive and food-neutral to reduce the risk of eating disorders. 

1. Recognize signs of anxiety

Food and body issues are often an expression of anxiety. When our kids begin to obsess about their weight or what they are eating, we can often find anxiety lying underneath. 

Parents who learn to recognize anxiety early can help their kids navigate anxiety without resorting to maladaptive coping mechanisms like eating disorders. 

Anxiety can arise at any time, and for any reason. Most of the time, the symptoms of anxiety are annoying. For example, your child may become suddenly irritable, rude, sarcastic, or begin asking repetitive questions to which you clearly don’t have the answer. 

Resist the temptation to tell your child to stop being such a drama queen or to pipe down. Instead, talk to them about how anxiety often shows up like this. Ask open-ended questions, and show them that you are available to support them through their understandable feelings of anxiety and depression right now. 

2. Listen for signs of body image and food issues

We live in a culture that glorifies thin bodies and “healthy” food. As a result, it can be hard for parents to recognize the early signs of food and body issues. 

But if you pay attention, it will get easier to recognize when your child is slipping into a dangerous relationship with food and their body. 

For example, all of the following may indicate a budding obsession with food and body weight: 

  • I can’t eat that – it will make me fat
  • If I start eating ice cream, I won’t ever stop
  • You’re only buying junk food – I can’t eat this
  • I’m going to come out of this so fat
  • Am I fat?
  • I’m getting so fat because I can’t exercise and there’s too much junk food in the house

Parents should listen closely for these statements and others like them. And they should address them directly and without shame. It’s important that parents model the fact that food is not an enemy to be controlled. And bodyweight is not the most important thing to invest our time and energy on right now. 

Look for ways that you can open up conversations about having a healthy and relaxed relationship with food and body weight during coronavirus quarantine … and beyond. 

And look out for times when you say things like the ones listed above. It makes sense if you do, but it’s also unhelpful. Work on your own relationship with food and your body to help your child stay healthy. 

3. Pay attention to food behavior

We’re all treading water right now – just doing our best to survive in trying times. This means that your regular schedules and routines are likely out of whack. 

Your child may be eating more meals alone in their room. They may be skipping meals or eating more than usual. Parents should pay attention to both of these behaviors. 

If your child is skipping meals, forgetting to eat, or eating far less than usual, there are two common reasons for this.

First, anxiety is a known appetite-suppressant for many people. It can be hard to eat if your stomach is cramping from fear. For some people, eating seems impossible when anxiety is high. 

Second, social media is filled with memes about gaining weight during coronavirus quarantine. Since our culture aspires to thinness at any cost, these messages can create even more fear about weight.

On the other hand, if you notice that food is missing and you believe your child is binge-eating, that makes perfect sense as well. Many people manage anxiety and feelings of helplessness with food. 

Either way, you may be seeing the early signs of a disordered relationship with food and eating.

Try to eat together as often as possible, and keep meals relaxed. If you notice unusual food behaviors, pay attention and take note if they continue for more than a week. You may need to get some professional support to figure out what exactly is going on and what you can do about it.

Parenting for positive food and body

4. Don’t try to control your own or your child’s weight

When we lack control over our future, we may seek to control our body weight. This is a cultural pastime, but unfortunately, it’s highly correlated with eating disorders. 

Despite all the advice on the Internet and social media right now, try to avoid using coronavirus quarantine to try and control your own bodyweight or that of your child. 

You want to look out for significant weight changes (up or down) in your child. These may indicate an eating disorder. But otherwise, small weight fluctuations should be expected.

This is a complex concept, but for right now just rest assured that the only thing you need to worry about is truly dramatic weight changes.

Avoid pointing out any weight gain or loss in your child unless you are truly concerned that they have an eating disorder. Otherwise, remain calm, and let your kids’ body be. 

5. Get help if you see warning signs

Few parents can address eating disorders on their own. This is especially true given that our kids have higher rates of anxiety and depression than any other generation. Oh, and we’re living through a pandemic and social isolation. 

You may be tempted to dismiss troubling food and body issues during this time, but please remain alert and aware. Eating disorders are very hard to treat, but we know that early intervention makes recovery much more possible. 

Most nutritionists and therapists are working overtime right now, including eating disorder specialists

If you suspect your child is developing an eating disorder during coronavirus quarantine, please get support. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has a hotline available to get you started: (800) 931-2237

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Try this if your child is driving you crazy during coronavirus

Almost all parents say their children are driving them crazy during coronavirus and social distancing. We’re in closer contact with them, and anxieties are running high.

It’s not easy parenting in these conditions. Spending more time with our kids during this massive quarantine event is hard. It’s even harder if our kids tend to experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.

It turns out that a lot of the things that drive us crazy about our kids may be anxiety in disguise. This means that if we learn to address our kids’ anxiety, we can improve their behavior and feel less annoyed with them.

Annoying behavior is often anxiety in disguise

First, you must learn to recognize anxiety in your child. It can be surprisingly hard to do this, since anxiety is mostly just annoying. Anxiety is often associated with being rude and irritable. If your child is driving you crazy during coronavirus quarantine, it’s very possible they are experiencing anxiety.

Your child may be rude, sarcastic, or cry more than usual. They could be obsessing about their bodies and criticizing your body. Your child may be genuinely hard to live with right now. It may help to learn to recognize when the difficulties stem from their anxiety. It makes it easier to tolerate them, and it also makes it easier to know what to do next, which is soothe their anxiety vs criticize their behavior.

Often when our kids are acting out, all we want to do is tell them to quit being so dramatic, annoying, or ridiculous. But what they actually need from us is to recognize that the problem is not their behavior itself, but the fact that they are experiencing anxiety.

Surprising symptoms of anxiety:

  • Sarcasm
  • Anger
  • Yelling
  • Helpless crying
  • Irritability
  • Annoying behavior
  • Obsessing about things like food, toilet paper, body weight, fitness, etc.
  • Repeating the same fear over and over e.g. “are we going to be OK?” “are we going to die?” and “am I fat?”

If you learn to recognize these annoying habits as anxiety, it will help you manage them better and improve your relationship during coronavirus and social distancing.

When we recognize anxiety as the cause of our kids’ annoying behavior, we can try to treat the symptom of anxiety. This is much more effective than criticizing our kids for being annoying or rude. If the cause of the behavior is anxiety, then we need to address the anxiety, and the behavior will fix itself. It won’t completely disappear, because anxiety is constant right now, but it will get easier to manage and become faster to resolve.

parent coaching

Managing your child’s anxiety looks different from typical parenting

It’s important to recognize that our kids’ annoying behavior often comes from anxiety, because then we can be more effective in getting the behavior to stop. When our child is driving us crazy anytime, but especially during coronavirus quarantine, we need to try some new parenting techniques.

The problem is that we typically think of parents as being the role of controlling and shaping our kids’ behavior. So if a child is rude, we snap back “don’t be rude” or “I will not accept that behavior – go to your room!”

While these approaches might work in some times, during times of high anxiety, they can backfire tremendously. This is because traditional parenting approaches completely ignore the reason for the behavior. If the reason for the behavior is anxiety, ignoring that means we miss the chance to improve our experience of our kids.

Unmanaged anxiety almost always snowballs. This means that parents become increasingly frustrated with their kids who have anxiety. Meanwhile, kids become increasingly anxious and frustrated with their parents. It’s easy to blame each other. This may be why so many teens and young adults drive their parents crazy. In fact, many parents frequently report they secretly hate their teenagers.

This is a sad outcome of unmanaged anxiety. Luckily, it’s not inevitable or permanent. When parents learn to recognize and soothe their kids’ anxiety, they can make a tremendous impact on their child’s behavior and likability.

How to soothe your child’s anxiety to improve their behavior

Anxiety often drives annoying behavior. When parents react to the behavior without addressing the anxiety underneath, they miss an opportunity to help their kids – and themselves.

Learning to soothe your child’s anxiety instead of automatically responding to their behavior takes time and practice. Don’t expect to do this perfectly the first time or even the five-thousandth time. Just keep practicing.

Here are some steps to help you soothe your child’s anxiety:

1. Soothe yourself – this is hard. Parents who are facing kids with anxiety feel angry and triggered. They want to lash out and control the situation. This is natural and normal. Take a few deep breaths and give yourself compassion for the difficulty of this moment. You will be more effective if you are calm and centered.

2. Recognize when annoying behavior is coming from anxiety. It’s important to recognize that your child is not a monster who needs to be controlled. If their negative behavior comes from anxiety, then addressing the anxiety will likely end the behavior. Observe the behavior – are they being annoying? Rude? Obsessive? Now remember that these behaviors are often driven by anxiety, not a character flaw.

3. Imagine what might be going on. The first step to soothing anxiety is tapping into your empathy. This means recognizing how your child might be feeling right now. Seek to understand why they are being rude – are they feeling trapped and out of control? Are they afraid that you will never be able to buy more toilet paper and everyone will starve? Do they believe that if they get fat nobody will love them? Seek understanding before anything else.

4. Soothe them. When our kids act up, the first thing we want to do is correct them. But in cases of anxiety, we need to soothe them first. Some soothing comments include:

  • I can understand why you feel frustrated right now
  • You are very angry – I get it
  • I imagine that all of this feels like it’s just too much
  • I’m here for you. You’re safe.
  • I know that sometimes when you worry about your body it means you’re feeling scared about other things, too (only say this if you have previously discussed this together and both agree)

5. Discuss the anxiety. Avoid asking questions about the anxiety or behavior until you sense your child is soothed. Here are some clues: their breathing will slow down and their voice will return to a normal tone and volume. The annoying behavior should be greatly reduced or stopped. Once this happens (and not before), you can ask some questions like:

  • Do you want to tell me about how you’re feeling?
  • I’d like to hear more about what’s going on for you right now
  • It makes sense that you’re feeling anxious/angry/sad – can you tell me about it?
  • What can I do to help you right now?
  • If I had a magic wand, what would you want me to do?

6. Discuss the behavior. Once your child has calmed down and you have discussed the cause of their behavior, you may want to gently discuss the behavior itself. It’s important to do this without blaming. Seek a collaborative approach in which you seek solutions together rather than dictate rules of engagement. For example:

  • I know you were feeling so angry when that happened. And I need you to know it’s very scary for me when you punch the wall/scream at me/yell obscenities. I’d like us to work together to avoid this in the future.
  • I understand how stressful life is right now. And I need you to know that when you ask me if you’re fat it triggers a lot of fear for me. I worry that you will stop eating and taking care of yourself. I’ll keep working on myself, and let’s keep talking about it. Is there anything I can do in the future to help?
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Self-compassion for everyone

This is a tough time. If your child is driving you crazy during coronavirus quarantine, you are not alone. This is hard. Self-compassion can help.

The main thing that helps anxiety and annoying anxiety symptoms is self-compassion. The more that parents practice self-compassion for themselves, the better we are able to respond to our kids’ anxiety without over-reacting to their behavior. And if we can teach our kids self-compassion, they are likely to have fewer outbursts. Self-compassion is also shown to reduce anxiety, so it’s a win-win.

Consider learning more about self-compassion and putting into practice in your home.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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As coronavirus rises, so do eating disorders

As we face the coronavirus epidemic coupled with social distancing, we’re seeing increases in eating disorders and other disordered behaviors. This makes perfect sense, since eating disorders are a coping mechanism, and if we have ever need to cope with something, this is it!

Our teens are missing out on critical milestones, our college kids are back home and miserable, and our young adults are worried about their careers. This is stressful. And eating disorder behaviors typically increase during times of stress.

➡️ If your child currently or has previously had an eating disorder, you should talk often about the increased stress of coronavirus and support your child in getting additional care and treatment.

➡️ If you suspect your child may be developing an eating disorder during coronavirus, please seek support immediately. Early treatment can really help reduce long-term impacts.

Why coronavirus is bad for eating disorders:

  • We are quarantining with our families, which can be highly stressful
  • We are living in a time of high anxiety and uncertainty, both of which contribute to eating disorders
  • Without regular schedules, food and exercise patterns can become chaotic
  • When so much is out of our control, it can seem soothing to try to control our bodies with food and exercise behaviors

Eating disorders may seem like they are about food and body issues. But in fact they are complex mental disorders that serve as a powerful emotional coping mechanism. In fact, they are a form of self-care. But of course they have unfortunate side effects, which is why we seek to recover from eating disorders. Often the goal is to learn to reach for less damaging coping mechanisms.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in Great Britain announced in December 2020 that doctors have seen a three or four-fold increase in eating disorder cases compared to last year. Eating disorder specialists are also reporting significant increases in Australia and the United States.

The mental health impact of coronavirus

By June 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) already had data demonstrating a marked increase in mental health issues. Here is a grim recap of their data:

  • Anxiety disorder symptoms ~3x higher in June 2020 compared to Q2 2019
  • Depression symptoms ~4x higher in June 2020 compared to Q2 2019
  • Suicidal ideation ~2x higher in June 2020 compared to 2018

The coronavirus pandemic is creating huge amounts of stress, anxiety, depression, and panic. Even people who are typically emotionally stable are finding themselves struggling to uphold their mental health. Anyone who has a history of an eating disorder is at high risk of relapse right now. It makes perfect sense. But ideally we would like to see if we can maintain as much recovery as possible as we go through this.

How parents can help kids who have eating disorders during coronavirus

Parents are just as stressed as their kids. This is a tough situation for all of us. Please engage in active self-compassion right now. You deserve so much care and love right now, too. Please reach out for support in any way you can. When you can, please give your child who has an eating disorder a little extra love and support during this time. Here are some ideas:

1. Be on the lookout for eating disorder symptoms

Remember that eating disorders are mental disorders, so you’re looking for mental distress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you only focus on weight, you may miss important symptoms. Here are some major symptoms to look out for:

  • Cutting out certain foods from their diet entirely, either for taste reasons (e.g. no longer tolerate mushy foods), “health” reasons (e.g. Whole 30, Keto, etc.), or even ethical reasons (e.g. vegetarian, vegan)
  • Increased signs of stress during meal times, or avoiding meals with the family altogether
  • New exercise regimen that is programmed and rigid
  • Skipping meals all day and then eating significant portions (possibly in secret) at night

These are just a few of the signs. You can take our quiz: Does My Child Have an Eating Disorder?

2. Get professional support

If you are concerned that your child has an eating disorder, it’s best to get them to see a therapist and/or dietitian as soon as possible. You can begin with your primary care doctor, but you should be aware that most doctors have very little training in eating disorders, especially if it’s anything other than clinically underweight anorexia. Seek support form a trained eating disorder professional if at all possible. We have a directory of professionals that can help get you started.

Your child may resist or even refuse help. In this case you may be able to force them, but it may actually be better for you to get some counseling or coaching for yourself so that you can more effectively communicate your concerns and work with them. You are not stuck doing nothing if your child refuses treatment – you can actually make a significant impact if you are the one who sees a professional.

I recognize that eating disorder treatment is expensive. And I assure you that professional care is necessary and important in cases of eating disorders. If you are under financial strain, consider the following options before you avoid or cancel treatment due to cost:

  • Ask your child’s providers if they can offer a sliding scale for right now. Each therapist will handle this individually, and there are no guarantees, but it’s worth at least asking if you have any options
  • Ask your child’s providers if they are offering special support groups during coronavirus. Many therapists are opening up Zoom groups to support those in need. Even if your therapist is not doing this, they may know someone else who is.
  • Call the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline at (800) 931-2237. They can help you problem-solve and figure out options
  • Review the free and low-cost treatment options on the NEDA website

3. Learn about how stress impacts eating disorder symptoms

Learn as much as you can about eating disorders. Most of what people assume about eating disorders is incorrect or vastly over-simplified. But the important thing to know is that they are both serious and not a choice. They are a mental disorder and should not be ignored or swept under the rug.

➡️ We have a free eBook to help parents understand eating disorders – you can get it here.

Let your child know that times of high stress can trigger eating disorder behaviors. The reason we do this is to let our kids know that it’s OK if they are struggling. We don’t want them to hide their eating disorder behaviors or feel ashamed that they are tempted to use them. And we also want them to know that we are available to help.

Don’t do this just once, because you will most likely get a brush-off. “I’m fine, mom,” is the most likely response, followed by a dramatic eye-roll. But don’t leave it there. Return to this subject in small ways to keep the conversation alive.

It’s OK to check in with your child every day about this. It doesn’t have to be a big long discussion, but you can say “How are you doing today? Is anything going on with your eating disorder that you would like to talk about?”

Your child does not have to engage in the conversation to recognize that you are looking out for their safety and wellbeing right now. While you certainly don’t want to pressure your child, you do want to let them know that you are paying attention and remain vigilant and ready to support them.

You also don’t need to be your child’s therapist. You are asking the question and opening the conversations so that you can direct them to talk to their treatment providers if anything comes up. Eating disorders can be sneaky and tricky, so the more we can bring them into the light, the greater our chance of treating them.

4. Keep an eating schedule

It can be challenging to keep an eating schedule if you aren’t used to it. But if you have a child who has an eating disorder it’s important that you schedule regular eating times.

A major red flag that your child’s eating disorder is acting up is if they skip meals. You want to proactively state your belief that your child needs to eat on a schedule every day in order to try and prevent eating disorder relapse.

Sit down with your family and discuss meal times that work mostly for everyone. These should include at least three meals plus two snacks. Some families add an after-dinner snack or dessert time. Make sure that you schedule at least one meal or snack time that everyone in the family will share.

Next, discuss food preferences for all the meals and snacks and create a family shopping list. It’s important that you involve your whole family in this discussion so that everyone feels as if they are engaged in the process of planning and eating meals. You should not have to carry this burden all by yourself, and you’ll have more buy-in if they participate.

Planning food for up to 2 weeks using shelf-stable foods during a time of high-stress can be challenging. We have seven super-easy meals you can make with almost no effort and just a few (shelf-stable) ingredients:

Depending on your child’s eating disorder behaviors, you may need to accommodate certain food fears. Be aware that these fears are part of the eating disorder, and work with your child to recognize that these are unusual times, and additional structure will be necessary to make it through coronavirus.

5. Connect every day

One of the biggest risks of coronavirus in the digital age is the ability for family members to isolate in their rooms with electronics. Many parents already feel disconnected from their kids due to electronic use, and although we’re stuck in the same house together, that doesn’t mean we’re interacting.

Human connection is one of the most important pieces of mental health. And deep, loving, accepting connection with parents is a healing factor for all of us. Don’t be surprised or feel like you’re failing if you have to insist upon connection opportunities. Most parents who have strong relationships with their kids insist on “together time,” especially when things are hard.

There are a lot of messages out there about just letting your kids do whatever they want right now. This is in contrast to other messages that say we need to rigidly schedule our kids’ days to ensure they don’t fall behind. But these are just two ends of an extreme. This is the same old permissive vs. authoritarian parenting argument.

Verywell / Joshua Seong

A better goal is the “authoritative” parenting role. Authoritative parents take a leadership role without being dictators or allowing a free-for-all. An authoritative parent will insist upon some family connection. This will take practice if you’ve never done it before, but please persist. It’s worth it.


Connecting during coronavirus

Here are some ideas for connecting with kids every day during coronavirus:

  • Take a walk together – just 10 minutes a day is a good place to begin. Don’t have an agenda or expect deep conversations. Just move together side by side and you may be surprised over time at the conversations that come up.
  • Play a game together – pick non-competitive games that feel low-stakes, and keep the focus on playing, not winning or keeping score. Your goal is to spend time together, not dominate each other. So if you can’t keep your cool during Monopoly, pick something else. A good alternative to games is doing a craft project, drawing together, or MadLibs-style games.
  • Eat together – there are no more excuses for not eating together at least once per day. Avoid the temptation to allow everyone to retreat into separate corners of the house to eat. Insist that everyone meet in one room and put devices away for at least one meal each day.

It’s important with all of these activities to have minimum expectations – just ask that everyone shows up and is polite. But keep expectations of deep, meaningful communication to a minimum. Your child may or may not open up in any one of these settings, but keep showing up anyway. You need to have a lot of resilience here, since your child will likely resist even if they recognize that it’s good to connect.

These are tough times. Please be kind to yourself as you figure out your own best path forward.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Negotiating with your child who has an eating disorder

Negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder can feel like negotiating with a terrorist. And we all know that you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, right? When your child has an eating disorder, the negotiations often seem bizarre and infuriating. Most of the time, parents just want their child to eat. It just doesn’t seem like something that needs to be negotiated.

So what’s a parent to do? Most of us can see when we’re hitting a wall with our child. We can see that the more our children mature, the less our strong-arming and control tactics work. With eating disorders, we feel frustrated with our child’s inability to be flexible on something as (seemingly) simple as eating.

Children who have eating disorders are incredibly strong, and we find that we are rarely able to get our way. Even when we do “win” and get our way, we suspect that our child is sneaking around our backs and doing what they want to anyway.

We’re probably right.

The problem is the approach

The problem is usually in how we approach a fight, dispute or negotiation with our kids. Most of us were raised by parents who told us to do things “because I said so.” We have also been immersed in movies, television, and other forms of media that have reinforced that people who are in power – including CEOs and parents – get what they want by controlling the situation, yelling to get the point across, and holding a firm line.

The trouble is that most people do not respond well to that form of leadership. In fact, most human beings resent being told what to do. Even if they do what you tell them to, they find ways to rebel against anyone who constantly and oppressively exerts unilateral power over them. In these situations, even reasonable requests fall on deaf and resistant ears. When we can’t agree on even very simple things like food, we become deadlocked.

“You need to eat.”


“You have to eat.”


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It’s not working

We see this sort of standoff in parenting all the time. We see it even more with kids who have an eating disorder. These kids often stubbornly refuse to follow reasonable requests to nourish their starving bodies.

Most often when we try strong-arm tactics with our kids, we see them dig their heels in and refuse. And there’s often very little we can do about that. The more we dig our heels in, the more resistant our kids become to even our most reasonable requests. They will actively work against us even as we seek to help them improve their chances of happiness and success.

The current term for this is “oppositional defiance,” which serves to medicalize and codify a behavior as old as time: a child’s rebellion against a parent.

Business lessons in negotiation

One place that we have found some excellent research for this is in the business world. You may think that business leadership is drastically different from parenting, but there are more similarities than you may think. Business leaders frequently need to motivate employees in emotionally-charged situations. And, frankly, it’s easier to study motivation and leadership at work than a parent-child relationship.


There is an excellent book that all parents who want to positively influence their child’s life should read: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. It’s a quick read and will give you a whole new perspective on conflict resolution.

The authors teach us some fundamental concepts to help us achieve agreement with even the most stubborn opponent. The core concept is that we must abandon our need to win an argument. Instead, we must pursue agreement.

This means we will not always get our way, but when working with other people (yes, even and perhaps especially our children), we must always pursue respectful collaboration and allow individuation. This does not mean we get railroaded or become passive. Quite the opposite. We become highly engaged partners in working with our children to find mutually agreeable resolutions that make sense.

Sound impossible? Read the book and you will understand more.

Here are a few highlights:

1. Separate people from issues

One of the first goals in “getting to yes” is to separate people from issues. We want to de-personalize the situation so that we can clarify the actual issue without resorting to personal attacks and judgment, which inevitably leads to a powerful shame response that gets us nowhere.

When we focus on the issue, not the person, we avoid damaging our most precious relationships and make it clear that the relationship is the most precious element of all. We must avoid blame and shame – both inflicting it and feeling it ourselves.

This can take a monumental effort from parents, but it can have staggeringly impressive effects. The more we can see ourselves in partnership with our kids, rather than in conflict with them, the better our chances are of reaching a mutual agreement.

2. Don’t focus on your position

Most of us begin a negotiation by stating our position. Most of the time each party states their position and then works to build their argument in support of that position.

This is an inefficient method of reaching an agreement because it encourages stubbornness and tends to harm each person’s relationship with the other.

In short, the more we argue against each other’s position, the worse we feel about the other person and our relationship with them. This creates a belief that we are adversaries, not in a loving relationship with each other. This is not a good situation for parents or children, and yet we find ourselves doing it over and over again.

3. Do focus on interests

Instead of focusing on your position, focus on your interests. What do you care about, and why? When you discuss a problem from the perspective of interests, there is no “winner” and “loser,” only different interests.

This makes it much easier to reach a mutual agreement because nobody feels they have to sacrifice their pride if they agree to the other person’s interests. This is critical with our children, who want to establish themselves as independent from us. They may be willing to do many more things if we only let them know our interests rather than our position.

The difference is subtle but profound: “you have to take out the trash” (position) vs. “it is important to me that we all contribute to the household. All of us contribute to our family in different ways. What I’d like you to do is take out the trash.” (interest)

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4. Generate options

Once you shift from positions to interests, you can see that there are now options available. In the example above, if your goal is to have everyone contribute, then you need to be open options other than taking out the trash.

This doesn’t mean the trash doesn’t get taken out, but it does mean that your child feels they can meet your interests in a way that is mutually agreeable rather than dictated by you.

Giving our kids some leeway in achieving our interests gives them personal agency and a sense of control over their own destiny. When we generate options, we allow our kids to participate in deciding they will do rather than simply dictating what they will do.

It is a well-known fact that while dictators may obtain short-term power, they inevitably breed rebellion and often meet devastating consequences at the hands of their disgruntled constituents.

5. Avoid win-lose mentality

Getting to yes means that both parties agree on a resolution. They have typically both made some compromises in their original positions. Getting to yes takes significantly more time than just saying “because I say so,” especially when a parent has previously used command and control techniques.

Our children need time to gain trust and believe that we are truly interested in finding a respectful resolution.

It is important therefore to mentally prepare yourself by remembering that there is no winner or loser when it comes to parenting. There is no victor in conversations with our children because even when we think we have won, we have lost something in the relationship as a result. Instead, we need to consciously avoid any win-lose mentality and seek connection above all outcomes.

But seriously: when things get really hairy

Of course, eating disorder behaviors are terrifying, and negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder is really hard. Most parents desperately want to intervene and stop the behaviors.

It may seem to you that all this talk of mutual agreement is nice and dandy if you aren’t facing a life-or-death situation, and in some cases, it may be true that you have to step in and take some control over your child’s nutrition for a while to get them to a baseline weight at which you can begin to collaborate. If this is your situation, please get help with Family Based Treatment, which is designed to do just this.

But most of the time this is not the case. Most of the time we are struggling over behaviors that drive us crazy but that are not imminently life-threatening. In these cases, if our child is medically stable, we can focus on the relationship and connection during disputes rather than some goal outcome (i.e. stopping the eating disorder behavior right now).

Desperate for the bottom line

When desperate, a lot of us seek what we consider to be a “bottom line.” We consider this our protection against a powerful or irrational opponent. But what negotiation research has shown is that a better approach is to establish the best possible step towards your interests. Negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder is hard, but it’s easier if we focus on the big picture instead of the bottom line.

This requires recognizing that we cannot force someone to do what we want them to do, but we may be able to influence them a little bit in our direction. Find small ways to get small “yesses” from your child. Maybe they can’t agree to all of your interests at this time, but can they agree to one small step. Maybe they can’t eat the whole meal, but they can eat some of it and sit with the family for the entirety of the meal. Work with your child’s nutritionist and/or therapist if you need some help with how to set this up.

Small yesses help our child gradually trust that we their parents respect their individuality and help them see that our interests, especially when it comes to their recovery from an eating disorder, are in their own best interest.

When we do this, we avoid trying to force our child to bend to our will and instead show them that we respect their individuality and unique perspective. Negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder should involve respect for the people involved, with an understanding that eating disorder behaviors are not in our best interest.

In time, peaceful and respectful negotiation inspired by “Getting to Yes” is likely to build a strong, collaborative relationship and ultimately bring us closer as families.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Parent coaching and/or therapy when your child has an eating disorder

Parent coaching and/or therapy when your child has an eating disorder

If your child has an eating disorder, you may be surprised to hear that their recovery will likely improve if you get parent coaching or therapy.

This can be really annoying. After all, aren’t they the one with the problem? Your only problem is that your kid is a nightmare! Otherwise, everything’s fine! Sound familiar?

We live in family ecosystems

Here’s the thing: our kids don’t operate independently. Societal messages tell us that we are supposed to be independent and emotionally self-contained. But human beings are actually completely driven by social groups, and especially nuclear family groups. In fact, almost nothing is more important to our development than our parents’ ability to connect with us.

So when something goes wrong with a child, it’s very unlikely that it went wrong in a vacuum or independent of the parents and family system. Almost all emotional disruptions in our kids, including eating disorders, substance abuse, shoplifting, self-harm, and other dangerous behaviors are rooted somehow in the family system.

This doesn’t come from a place of blame. It comes from a place of empowerment. You want your child to get better. And, guess what? You can help! A lot!

But you can only help if you reflect on yourself and the family dynamic in which you live. And that’s exactly why therapy and/or parent coaching can help your child recover from an eating disorder.

The conditions to thrive

Think of a plant. You put a plant in your garden and it fails to thrive. It’s your prerogative to blame the plant, but then you’re missing the fact that the plant lives in your garden. You can keep blaming the plant and ignore the conditions, but your plants will keep failing to thrive. This is because plants are not self-contained. They rely on the right water, sunlight, and soil conditions. Without those elements, the plant will struggle.

Emotional caregiving is the equivalent of water, sunlight, and soil conditions for humans. Most of us have not been taught how to optimize emotional caregiving conditions for our kids. But we can learn, and getting professional help is often the fastest way to do so.


Reasons you need therapy/parent coaching if your child has an eating disorder

You may be sick and tired of having people suggest that you get therapy or parent coaching when your child is the one with an eating disorder (not you). It may make you very angry that these so-called experts keep telling you that you need it. I get it. Most people don’t understand the value of therapy and coaching because they haven’t encountered it personally. But therapy can be truly transformative for families that are struggling with eating disorders.

Here are the four main reasons parents who have a child with an eating disorder need parent coaching and/or therapy:

1. You need support

Having a child who has an eating disorder is really hard. Since we live in an individualistic society, most parents feel isolated and ashamed when something goes wrong at home. A therapist or coach can provide you with compassionate support during this difficult time.

A therapist or coach will also help you find ways to open up to your friends and family members in a way that is supportive of you and respectful of your child. You don’t need to live in silence and pain. You deserve to reach out and get community support during this difficult time.

2. You need to understand what recovery is (and what it isn’t)

Eating disorders are complex mental conditions that require specialized and (often) long-term treatment. You’re in for a marathon, not a sprint. This means that the more you can understand about eating disorders and recover, the better able you are to support a speedy recovery.

Eating disorder recovery is often frustrating and expensive for parents. So while it can seem strange to add an expense to the process, your engagement in recovery could actually make it more likely.

A therapist or coach can work with you on your assumptions about eating disorders and help you find peace with your child’s recovery process.

3. You need to reflect on your family dynamic

Our children are finely attuned to our needs as parents and their role in the family. This attunement can lead to disordered behavior because it sometimes requires a child to adjust who they are or how they behave in order to meet the needs of the family dynamic.

A family dynamic that remains the same can’t accommodate the recovered, healthy child. This frequently leads to relapse and ongoing problems. A trained professional can help you notice the ways in which your child’s dangerous behaviors are linked to your family dynamic. Once you can see the purpose behind the behavior, you can adjust and accommodate your recovering child.

4. You have the greatest potential to help your child

Nobody – not a therapist, not a doctor, and not medicine, will have as significant an impact on your child’s health as your behavior and beliefs about your child. This is daunting but also empowering. You have the opportunity to approach your child’s disorder in a new, different way. You can make a huge impact on your child’s recovery.

Parents who understand that maladaptive behaviors arise in the context of the family system are able to support a child’s complete recovery. Recovery doesn’t give you back a child you had previously. It gives you a fuller, more present, and more assertive person than you had before. Your consistent and compassionate understanding of your child’s healing process will make the transition to full recovery easier for everyone.

What is the difference between therapy and coaching?

Many parents have a strong aversion to getting professional help with parenting. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that getting help for yourself often makes a massive impact on your child’s recovery. You could benefit from both therapy and coaching, as they serve different purposes. Below are some general differences between the two options:

Therapist: will help you dig deep into your own psyche to uncover unconscious beliefs and patterns that impact how you parent. Provides emotional support and non-judgmental care. Typically asks you to look within for answers. Is often focused on understanding your psyche to shape your future.

Coach: will help you learn more about parenting and how your behaviors impact your child. Provides the opportunity to assess behavior and try new things. May guide you in finding answers and solutions to everyday challenges. Is often focused on changing your behavior to shape your future.


What parents get wrong about therapy and coaching

Here are the top five incorrect assumptions people make about therapy and parent coaching:

1. I don’t need help because I’m not the one with a problem

It can be hard to get on board with getting help for yourself if your perception is that you don’t have a problem. But you do. Your child is having a problem, and that’s a problem for you. Our kids are finely attuned to our needs and wants as their parents, and their dangerous behaviors are often a mirror into our parenting styles. This may feel threatening, but it’s actually the gateway to healing. A parent’s change can transform not only the child who is openly struggling, but the entire family and beyond.

2. I am who I am – talking to someone isn’t going to change me

It’s true that you are a fully-formed adult human. But the beautiful thing that we’ve learned with neuroscience is the concept of neuroplasticity. That is: the human brain continues to be able to grow, change, and adapt throughout our lives. Just because you have established your interpersonal style and behaviors doesn’t mean you can’t learn new things and make new neural connections. You have a tremendous capacity to grow and learn. And a professional can help you re-wire your neurological system so that parenting actually gets easier and less stressful! A professional therapist or coach will change your life if you commit to the process of change.

3. A therapist or coach is like a friend you pay to listen to you

No. A therapist or coach is not your friend. They are a professional who is there to help you untangle implicit (subconscious) assumptions and make discoveries that will improve your parenting behavior. Your friends are wonderful – they are typically there to support you and cheer you on no matter what. But a therapist has been taught to recognize and gently challenge biases and patterns that interfere with your ability to connect with your child. You will never be blamed or shamed, but you will begin to see ways in which you can behave differently.

Does this mean my child doesn’t need treatment if I get therapy?

No. Your child still needs treatment and support for what they are going through. But parents who get professional help can make a huge impact on their child’s recovery.

If your child sees a therapist for two sessions per week, they still have about 124 waking hours when they are not seeing a therapist. You, on the other hand, are likely interacting with your child at least one hour per day. You can make a big difference if you use that hour to connect deeply and heal any relational wounds that are impacting recovery.

Getting professional support for yourself may feel like a luxury, but it can in fact strengthen your child’s recovery.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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32 worst things to say to someone with an eating disorder

worst things to say eating disorder

Most of us don’t know what to say to someone who has an eating disorder. Eating disorders are poorly understood, and most of us have never had a meaningful conversation about eating disorders.

The result is that people often say the wrong thing to people who have eating disorders. It’s not because they are trying to be hurtful, but it hurts nonetheless. I interviewed thousands of people who have/had eating disorders to find out the phrases that hurt the most.

The three most damaging eating disorder comments are:

  1. Just stop doing it: the idea that recovery is simple misses the depth and complexity of eating disorders. They are intensely personal and deeply challenging disorders that impact the mind and body. Recovery is rarely simple and requires comprehensive treatment.
  2. But you look great: while it’s true that an obsession with appearance is a symptom of an eating disorder, that is not all that an eating disorder is about. And no amount of reassurance will ever budge an eating disorder. They require specialized treatment and care.
  3. I wish I had an eating disorder: an eating disorder is a life-threatening disorder that can impact a person’s body and mind for life. Usually what people mean when they say this is that they wish they could lose weight. This is deeply damaging and hurtful for someone in the depths of a mental disorder.

If you’re not sure what to say to someone who has an eating disorder, then stick with compassion and support. Avoid making suggestions or comments that expose your own fear of fat or belief that an eating disorder is a choice.

Here are 32 of the worst things people say to people who have eating disorders:

Just …

  • stop throwing up
  • eat
  • put the fork down
  • start eating regularly, it’ll fix itself
  • let yourself become one with God. And when you realize that you are in God’s love, your anxieties will go away

Statements that begin with the word “just” suggest that eating disorders are simple. Eating disorders are absolutely not simple. They are complex biopsychosocial mental health conditions. That means they stem from a combination of biological, psychological, and social conditions. All of these conditions combine to create a situation in which eating disorders thrive.

When people start a statement about eating disorders with the word “just” It shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of the situation. This suggests they don’t understand how serious and challenging it is to recover from an eating disorder.

But you …

  • are skinny, so you can’t be anorexic
  • aren’t skinny, so you can’t be anorexic
  • look fine
  • don’t look like you have an eating disorder
  • are so smart, why can’t you see that this is ridiculous?
  • aren’t really bulimic. You don’t throw up, do you?
  • can recover if you want it badly enough

When a comment begins with “But you” the next thing that comes out is going to hurt. This is because it suggests that a person shouldn’t have an eating disorder. The word “but” means “you shouldn’t.” Phrases that begin this way suggest that a person with an eating disorder is making an active choice to have an eating disorder rather than struggling with a mental health condition. A simplification of the problem will not make the eating disorder go away because it misses the point.

Also, the idea that eating disorders have a certain look is deeply damaging. The vast majority of eating disorders are invisible.

I wish …

  • I had anorexia! My body could lose a few pounds!
  • I had the strength to not eat! My problem is that I eat too much!
  • you would just stop doing this!
  • you could hear how ridiculous you sound

“I wish” statements are often followed by the idea that you wish you had some eating disorder symptoms. In doing this, you’re perpetuating diet culture, which is one of the contributing factors in eating disorders. These statements suggest that an eating disorder is a healthy diet with a positive outcome rather than a deadly condition. There is no upside to an eating disorder.

Another option is “I wish you would just stop!” This suggests that you think recovery is easy. As you’ve probably picked up by now, eating disorder recovery is not easy.

Making a wish will never make an eating disorder go away.

It’s not that hard …

  • focus on eating healthy and get some light exercise!
  • stop caring what people think!
  • run. If you run, you’ll be hungry. AND it cured my depression
  • it’s just about willpower!
  • just eat normally and then lightly exercise
  • if you’re unhappy with your weight just diet and lose it!
  • if you’re unhappy with how you look then eat better and workout more

It’s dismissive and hurtful to suggest that “it’s not that hard” to recover from an eating disorder. Of course it’s hard! If it weren’t, then nobody would have an eating disorder.

We live in a culture that has a poor understanding of mental health, but here’s a really simple rule of thumb. Any time you want to say it’s not hard to be mentally healthy, consider whether you would say the same thing to someone who broke a leg. Would you suggest that they could heal by simply “getting over it?” Or adding some light exercise? No!

And you definitely wouldn’t suggest that the way to heal a broken leg is to heal it by themselves. That’s essentially what happens when someone suggests that a person who has an eating disorder should eat, not eat, or exercise their way out of their eating disorder. That’s just not how it works.

But …

  • you look perfectly fine to me
  • can’t you see how bad you look right now?
  • there is nothing bad happening in your life for that you act like that
  • doesn’t everyone have an eating disorder?
  • you’d look better if you gained weight

When a response begins with “but,” this suggests that eating disorders are simple and/or ridiculous. We’ve covered the fact that eating disorders are not simple. Eating disorders are also not ridiculous. They are coping behaviors that are rooted in a web of biology, psychology, and societal forces.


You need to …

  • stop being so selfish and take care of yourself so you don’t make your mother worry. Why do you keep making things so difficult for her?
  • eat normally. You don’t have to eat pizza everyday but just eat something
  • go eat a hamburger
  • pray and Jesus will make it go away

It’s almost never helpful to tell someone who has an eating disorder what they need to do. Leave that up to the professionals who are working with the person who has the eating disorder. They alone are qualified to provide any guidance on this topic.

What to say instead

This doesn’t mean you can’t say anything! Just say words of compassion rather than advice. Compassionate statements recognize that the person is doing their very best. They also demonstrate that you trust the person to make the right choices for their recovery. Here are some ideas:

  • I’m so sorry that you’re hurting right now
  • It sounds as if you’re working really hard
  • I’m here to support you
  • It sounds like this is really challenging
  • I love you

I know it’s hard to learn these guidelines. Most people genuinely want to be helpful, they just don’t know enough to avoid causing harm. Hopefully, this has given you some ideas about why these statements can be hurtful and what to say instead.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Unconditional love, parenting, and eating disorders, by Verena Radlingmayr

Remember that first time you held this precious, tiny little wonder in your arms? Remember the feelings you had? Before you were wondering if you could be a good parent, there was this feeling of love, wonder, and so much love. It flowed freely, unconditionally. Your child didn’t have to do anything to deserve this love. It was enough s/he was there.

Years later, you are facing an eating disorder, and you find yourself researching solutions to a problem that may lead to your child’s death. And you are faced with powerful emotions that swirl around your insides. When a child struggles with eating, parents feel shame and guilt and wonder what they did wrong to make their child to suffer so greatly. What caused this tiny precious thing to grow into a child determined to destroy herself?

There is nothing you could have done differently. Yet there is something you need to learn. But before you can learn something it is necessary to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is powerful. And while we easily forgive others, we sometimes fail to grant the same kindness to ourselves. Forgive yourself. You didn’t set out to hurt your child.

You are now open to make the adjustments and amends supporting your child’s healing process.

Why is it your child has these issues in the first place? In my experience there is a connection between a child’s universal rights and eating disorders.

Parenting for positive food and body

Children’s rights and unconditional love

Children’s rights are universal. They include unconditional love, being accepted wholly, and being supported and defended. First and foremost is the right to be loved unconditionally.

Unconditional love means a child has the right to truly be as they are, without forcing themselves to be or do things that don’t fit in order to be socially acceptable. While years ago unconditional love was a luxury for a few, it is now a basic requirement.

When your child has an eating disorder, they suffer from a distorted picture of themselves and lose the utter trust in and faith of being worthy of unconditional love. In their disorders, they believe that love is conditional and that they must look and behave according to what they believe will make them lovable. They believe that gaining the love they need to survive is conditional based on external measurements of appearance and behavior. The child feels abandoned and torn apart. 

Parents can sometimes accidentally perpetuate these beliefs because they don’t know better. They, too, have been taught that love is conditional. They, too, believe they must appear and behave a certain way to gain love. And so they don’t realize that their conditional love for their child is painful. 
An eating disorder often is way of finding a solution to an impossible task – to gain love. It’s a way to right what’s wrong and get what they need most: their caregivers’ love. 

When a child become assured they will receive unconditional love without any adjustments in appearance or behavior, the eating disorder symptoms are no longer necessary to make the child feel safe in pursuing love because they know they have love unconditionally.

We often think that growing up requires you to toughen up, that you need to play the game. Research shows that in babies born around 2000 and after, new brain areas have developed, and they affect the way we perceive ourselves and make us more perceptive of our environment. While we, the parents, were brought up to understand that love is conditional and based upon social acceptance, our kids’ brains can’t cope with the same conditions.

For example, it might not be socially accepted that your child gets angry, but if it is who she is, and as parents we must love her with (not in spite of) her anger. Don’t say things like “Today is my birthday, so if I had one wish it would be for you to behave and not have one of your outbursts.” That would be hurtful, and a condition of your love. It causes your child to feel unloved. As children we are hardwired to have our caregivers love – our survival depends on it. Can you remember the fear and despair you felt when you sensed that your own parents required you to ignore your own needs in order to gain their love?

parent coach

You have rights, too!

This is so important to know: unconditional love is your right, too. You deserve to be loved with all the flaws and faults and little eccentricities that make you the very special human miracle you are. That’s why you are allowed to forgive yourself. Because you were doing what you thought best and didn’t know about the importance to follow your heart and your instincts.

As a parting gift I want you to have this tool to help you and your child along the way: close your eyes and remember the day your child was born. Let your system be flooded with the joy and love you felt. Stay in the moment until you feel the love in your heart, and from the tips of your hair all the way down to the tips of your toes. Then open your eyes and you will see. See the next step and then the next.

By making the decisions from the viewpoint of love, you will be the support and guidance your child needs. Feel the emotions you had this very first moment you held your child and tap into them again and again. You are brave to follow your heart and you are exactly what your child needs.


Dr. Verena Radlingmayr is an author for children and guide for the inner strength. She assists you in gaining the confidence, the security or clarity you need to thrive. Her law background and knowledge of holistic healing combined brought forth the very idea of universal rights and their connectedness to prosperity, health, and inner sanctum. To set things straight and shine a light on the infringing acts of unknowing persecutors is Verena’s idea of leading a successful professional life. Her books speak to the inner core and the heart and heal weaving a net of supporting words and explanations. The first English title is Schilda, the fortune turtle, available as ebook. Website

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Love your child for they are – not who you wish they would be

One of the hardest things about parenting is separating our own identity from that of our child. We all dream of success for our child, but often these dreams are a fantasy definition of success and reflect more about what we want(ed) out of life than what our child wants out of life.

Learning to see our child as a whole person with their own personality, dreams, and passions is a daily practice. Here are some recommendations:

1. Stop wishing for a thin child

We live in a society that is cruel and discriminatory towards people who live in larger bodies. Because of this, parents believe that their children will be unhappy and lonely if they don’t control their bodies and keep them below the weight they would naturally be without restriction.

There are many messages that pop into the head of a parent who has a child living in a larger body. If your beautiful child is larger than you think they should be, you may consciously think things like:

She would be so much happier if she were thin.

She wouldn’t be bullied if she were thin.

She would be so pretty if she were thin.

These are very common thoughts for parents who have a child who is larger, but if you look deeper, it’s very possible that your real fears are about you – not them. Your subconscious thoughts are:

I would be so much happier if she were thin.

I wouldn’t feel like a bad mom if she were thin.

I would feel better about her if she were thin.

As you can imagine, having such thoughts about your child’s body is problematic. We’re not here to point fingers or assign blame though. Our goal is to expose the fact that you wish your child were thin because it would make you happier and more comfortable.

Now that you see that, it’s time to counter-balance your fears and concerns about your child’s body with compassionate acceptance of them as an individual.

Learn about Health at Every Size, and embrace the Body Positive movement, both of which assert (correctly) that body diversity is a natural thing (we can’t all be the same size) and that health is not tied to body weight. Educate yourself by reviewing our research library about weight, health, and related topics.

You’re going to think bad things about your child’s body. That’s normal in our society. But it’s not OK to let those bad thoughts linger and fester in your mind. Root them out and replace them with thoughts that are respectful of your child’s right to live in their body without restriction, hate, and disordered eating.

2. Stop wishing for a good child

Most of us were raised on some variation of the premise that children should be well-behaved, polite, and bend their needs to fit the family structure. But think about how that upbringing has impacted your sense of self-worth.

Unfortunately, most of us who were raised to sacrifice our true selves to serve the family feel a deep lack of self-worth. We tend to be hard on ourselves and others because, fundamentally, we do not believe that we are worthy, loved, and good just because we exist.

Most of us over-perform, whether at work, at home, or both, in an attempt to feel worthy of love. But, just like the perpetual cycle of weight loss and weight gain, no matter how much we perform in the pursuit of love, we still don’t feel worthy or fully loved.

It’s natural and normal for parents to raise their own children in a way similar to how they themselves were parented. But if we want to raise kids who feel worthy of love and affection without any performance or production, we need to parent consciously and thoughtfully, not automatically.

Our children suffer under the “good child” parenting model, because our kids feel they must perform in order to win our love. If they have not learned that they are already worthy exactly as they are, without modifications, they will unconsciously work too hard and never feel satisfied. They may turn to weight loss, under-eating, and over-exercising in an attempt to be worthy of our love.

None of us wants that for our kids.

So the goal is to stop wanting a “good” kid. Wanting a “good” kid means we want a child who does what we say, when we say it, without question. We want an obedient child who doesn’t take up too much space in our life, but who shows up looking great and seeming happy on demand. We want a child who makes us feel good about ourselves because we are still hustling for our own worthiness.

Instead of wanting a good kid, want a child who feels worthy exactly as they are. Want a child who knows they are deeply loved by you no matter what they do. Want a child who feels safe to express hurt, anger, fear, and other emotions about how you make them feel.

If you can do this, you’re more likely to help your child avoid behavioral addictions that seek to fill emotional holes. These include disorders like eating disorders, substance abuse, and compulsive shopping, gambling, and sex.

3. Redefine “success”

We all want our child to be successful, and that’s not a problem. The problem comes with how we define “success.”

Most of us are living under burdens that our own parents imposed upon us regarding what success means. Perhaps your parents wanted you to be rich, or beautiful, or brilliant, or a doctor, lawyer, or “good” wife. Maybe your parents wanted you to take over the family business, or marry the right person. Whatever they wanted, it shaped how we feel about ourselves and, in many cases, it drags us down.

Because success is not as simple as a degree, a traditional marriage, or a bank account. Success in life incorporates many aspects of life, including fulfilling work, meaningful relationships, and, to whatever degree possible, physical health.

But our society often twists these goals into more superficial measurements like financial wealth, a traditional marriage, and a thin body. None of these guarantees a successful life.

While fulfilling work, meaningful relationships, and physical health will bring us feelings of satisfaction and success, financial wealth, a traditional marriage, a hetero-normative sexual identity and orientation, and a thin body are worthless without meaning. No matter how much we tell ourselves that superficial measures of success will make us happy, we just aren’t built like that.

Our beliefs about “success” infect our children, and can lead them to a life that feels empty and meaningless, too. No matter how much money our kids make or how thin they keep their bodies, the pursuit of superficial success will never give them a deep and meaningful life.

Let’s help our kids define success in terms of meaning, depth, and true health. Let’s model what it means to be successful by pursuing meaning, fulfillment and health in our own lives. And remember, meaning and fulfillment don’t come with a trophy, cash, or grade. And health doesn’t happen when we achieve a number on the scale.

We are all someone’s child, and now that we’re parents, it’s up to us to redefine success so that our children can find true meaning, fulfillment, and success in life.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.