Food can be a way for children and young people to explore their environment and first discover their likes and dislikes, establishing their independence from their caregivers. An unhealthy relationship with food can be very dangerous for your child and their development.
Fussy eating is a common part of the development of children – as a parent, it can be difficult to recognise whether your child is a fussy eater or if they’re developing a serious eating disorder. However, there are signs to look out for which will help you determine whether your child needs help or whether they’re simply trying to establish their likes and dislikes in food.
It is a common misconception that the changing of weight, either gaining or losing, is the main indication of a child having an eating disorder – it is actually quite a late sign in the development of the mental illness. Early signs of eating disorders are low self-esteem, a child or young person avoiding looking at themselves in the mirror, wearing clothes that cover up most of their body, frequent mood swings, and irregular eating habits or being evasive when discussing food.
If you find stashes of food in your child’s room, or if large amounts of food are missing suddenly without you realising, it could mean that your child is being secretive about their eating habits, which is a strong indication of an eating disorder to look out for. Another sign is if you’re child often says they’re not hungry or they’ll eat later or if they’re adamant about eating alone in their room. If you are noticing these signs in your child, it is wise to visit your GP and ask about who to refer your child to, as well as asking about support groups for parents caring for someone with an eating disorder.
As a parent, it is important not to overlook the potential of boys developing an eating disorder, as it is commonly believed that the mental illness primarily develops in young teenage girls. It is crucial you are aware of this as a parent and look out for the signs including exercising obsessively, as people believe it is so rare that even health care professionals may not recognise the potential of an eating disorder in young boys.
Eating disorders are treatable and a full recovery is possible. The eating disorder may cause permanent damage to the body if it continues over a prolonged period of time.
To learn more, watch our informational videos on Anorexia and Bulimia in children and young people, or download the fact sheet below.