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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Approaching your teenager about an eating issue

Te kōrero ki tō rangatahi mō tētahi raru kai

Deciding how to talk to your rangatahi (teenager) about eating can be very hard. It helps to think about what you are going to say before you talk to them.

Try to maximise the chances of a positive conversation. Avoid using labelling or judgemental language.

Choose a time when you are both feeling calm and are unlikely to be distracted. Pick a safe and comfortable place.

Choose your words carefully

It is important to let your rangatahi know you are raising your concerns because you genuinely care about them. Come straight to the point and have examples to back up your concerns.

Tell your rangatahi you have seen behaviour that worries you. Tell them you are worried they have developed an eating disorder. It can be useful to have a list of warning signs or behaviours that you have seen. It can be more difficult for them to deny things if you have some solid examples.

Focus on feelings – yours and theirs. This makes it less likely that they will interpret what you are saying as an attack or judgement. Own your feelings, and show you are taking responsibility for them by using "I" statements.

Try to focus on behaviours and feelings that you are worried about rather than on eating and weight. Your rangatahi is more likely to recognise that they have been unhappy, withdrawn or miserable. They may be highly protective of the eating and associated behaviours.

Try to avoid

Use a different approach

Do not expect to solve it straight away

Your rangatahi may be unwilling or not ready to talk. If this happens, remember that raising the subject has opened a door for further conversations. Try not to get caught up in power struggles about whether they have a problem. Try saying something like "Even if I cannot convince you to get help now, I cannot stop caring."

Be patient and persistent but be careful not to nag. Focus on the future, recovery and your willingness to help.

Your rangatahi may feel threatened by your discovery or observations. They may need some time to absorb what you have said and to respond. Listen to them and ask them to listen to you. Let them know that you have heard what they are saying.

Realise that they will need to work at getting better at their own pace. You might want to say something like: "I understand that you might find facing this very difficult. It takes a lot of courage to admit that something is not right. I will be here for you when you are ready to accept my support and whenever you feel ready to talk."

Written by Eating Disorders Victoria. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2024.


Page reference: 76445

Review key: HIEDI-73561