Siblings are intuitive. They know when their sibling is acting different. Eating disorders will not only interfere on your sick child’s adolescence, but it will interfere on their siblings as well.
At the onset of an eating disorder diagnosis, there will be many appointments. Health professionals that may be involved in your child’s care include a GP, Psychologist, Dietitian, Pediatrician and/or Psychiatrist.
These take up A LOT of time and energy.
As you do what ever you can to find the best care and treatment for your child, you may find you are increasingly absent from the home. This is not your fault. However, it is helpful to understand the toll it can take on the rest of the family, so you are able to put in measures to address common struggles we see here at Myrtle Oak.
Where to start?
We provide sibling handouts to help provide age-appropriate education. Let siblings know that their sister/brother did not choose to have an eating disorder and that you will be doing everything you can to get them well. Let them know it will be a time of heightened emotions and if they feel anxious, worried, frustrated, this is normal. Let them know they should communicate these feelings to you.
Being preoccupied with your unwell child, could mean less ability to drive to sports training, piano lessons, birthday parties etc. This can feel isolating to the other children in the house.
Consider other family members/friends who could provide support to make sure siblings are able to still engage in normal activities as much as possible.
Eating disorder treatment is stressful and intensive. Your child may notice that you are increasingly worried, anxious, and irritable. These emotions can flow onto others in the household.
We recommend scheduling time in your week to spend 1:1 with each sibling. This could include an activity you enjoy doing together. Reassure them that you love them.
Re-feeding requires a lot of food, & we recommend high calorie foods be kept in the house to facilitate weight restoration for your unwell child. Other children may also enjoy these foods.
It is important to explain to the family that everyone’s nutritional needs are different. Whilst all foods are to be enjoyed and make up a part of a balanced day, explain that they are not expected to eat as much as their unwell sister/brother, just like if they required anti-biotics, others in the family would not need to take the medicine.
As with many other illness’s, siblings are pre-disposed and are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
Be mindful of behaviours your other children may start doing and reach out for support if you are concerned. Check in with them regularly e.g. ‘Since x has been unwell, have you had your own thoughts or struggles with food?’
Family based treatment involves the whole family for a reason.
Bring siblings to sessions. This will give them a safe space to feel heard and to be guided on how they can help their sister/brother get well.
Eating disorders will do whatever they can in their power to get out of eating, whether it be throwing food, yelling, leaving the table, threatening parents or flat out refusal. This makes mealtimes stressful and unpleasant.
Remind the siblings that this is the eating disorder NOT their sister/brother. Give them permission to provide support discussed in session if they feel up to it or allow them to leave the table once their meal is finished if it is too distressing. It can be helpful to have one of the parents check on the sibling at this time.
Siblings will have different experiences, and therefore you need to find what works for your family. Eating disorders can bring families closer together and strengthen the sibling alliance when siblings do not step up into the parental role with monitoring. Going through treatment as a family expands everyone’s knowledge of mental illness and most often, improves communication between the whole family.
Our FBT clinicians at Myrtle Oak are trained specifically in eating disorders, receive regular supervision and apply evidenced based practice to deliver quality treatment and care. Call us on (02) 4362 3443 or contact us to see if we are a good fit for you and your family.
Click here to read a journal article on relational containment: exploring the effect of family based treatment for anorexia on familial relationships.