The start of the school term has crept up on us and in the blink of an eye, your child / adolescent is about to return to school. Returning to school when you have an eating disorder and engaged in treatment adds extra layers of complexity and requires further consideration to ensure this transition is planned well to best support your child. Where possible, we recommend a slow, graded transition back into school. There are helpful signs you can look out for when deciding collaboratively with your team whether your child/adolescent is ready to return to school and at what capacity.
In the case of Maudsley Family Based therapy, it will be helpful to have a plan that compliments the stage of treatment you and your child are in. For example, if your child currently has 3 supervised meals and 3 supervised snacks, this will indicate that they may need meal support at school. If they are able pack their own lunch and snacks, and eat morning tea independently, you may arrange for the school or yourself to provide supervision and support only at lunch time. If they are eating most meals independently at home, speaking to the school counsellor and/or principal to ensure they have at least one adult who will be a helpful resource when needed.
How will I know my child is ready for school, independently?
You want to have confidence that they are eating all meals/snacks with minimal push back and minimal prompting needed. That they been open, upfront, and honest around urges, thoughts and eating disorder behaviours, including compensatory behaviours. They have displayed an ability to concentrate and engage in school, using precious brain space that was previously taken up by ongoing thoughts of food and body image. You may also want your child to be more flexible with their eating behaviours and foods selection prior to obtaining full school independence.
If your child is still needing routine prompting to finish meals, displaying eating disorder tricks or behaviours to minimise eating, constant negotiating at mealtimes, engaging in compensatory behaviours post meals, then they would not yet be ready to return to school without adequate mealtime supports.
Navigating school in eating disorder recovery takes forward planning and preparation. Let us address some common barriers we observe in practice:
Fear about what others will think
It is important to remind yourself that you cannot control how others think or feel. You also cannot guess what others are thinking, unless you are a mind reader!! Be mindful of how your eating disorder can raise anxiety with worry around what others are thinking, chances are they are not even taking notice. The only way we know what others are thinking is if they tell us themselves. Don’t let your eating disorder thoughts spiral out of control. Focus on your close friends who will be supportive of you and will want to help. Let them know what they can do to help at mealtime: one suggestion is to ask them not to talk about food and enjoy chatting about other topics instead. Furthermore, it may be helpful to work with your therapist on helpful vs. unhelpful thinking styles.
Comparison with friends
It is likely that you will be required to eat more frequently or with more quantities than your peers to meet your requirements. Nevertheless, we all have individual nutrition needs. Being able to nourish your body is an act of self-care. Your eating pattern and the amount of food you eat, does not need to be justified to others. Remember food is your medicine and the dose needs to be sufficient to get you well and recover.
Draw on supports
Eating disorders thrive in isolation. Communicate to your friends and family what would be helpful. Speak to your principal, a teacher or school counsellor about the support that can be provided to you when you are finding things challenging. Choose a trusted friend to be there with you at mealtimes.
Plan, Prepare and Prioritize
When establishing a new routine after time off, it can be helpful to plan your meals (breakfast, lunch) and snacks (recess/afternoon tea). Plan what food you will have during school hours and prepare lunches/snacks ahead of time. In recovery, regular eating throughout the day must be a priority, especially at school.
There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to managing eating disorders and school. Your team at Myrtle Oak can help tailor your needs, or in the case of families, your child/adolescents needs for a smoother transition back into the regular routine of school. Visit the contact page or call us on (02) 4362 3443 to speak with our team.