Published: Mar. 15, 2006
Updated: Mar. 15, 2006
Research shows parents can play an important role in managing their child’s eating disorder. And with insurance reimbursements for hospital stays dropping, parents are being called on more and more to manage their child’s illness at home.
But most families have neither the tools nor the support to address eating disorders at home, says Nancy Zucker, PhD, director of the Duke Eating Disorders Program.
“Any parent can do this for a week, but these illnesses can run for years, and it’s hard to keep up,” Zucker says.
To help, Zucker created a parent-training program that combines skills training with support groups. Instead of working individually with parents, Zucker meets with them in weekly group sessions.
“We developed a group skills program because parents really need a forum to feel supported, and, if necessary, vent their frustrations. The parents support each other, rally each other to get through this, and, in the process, learn how to manage life better themselves,” Zucker says.
The parent-training program is one of a handful in the U.S. aimed at helping parents learn the necessary techniques and behaviors to help change their child’s eating habits. For example, instead of creating conflict, especially battles over food, parents learn to model the healthy behavior they want to see in their children.
Each week parents have an assignment that focuses on changing behaviors in themselves and their children. The homework targets unhealthy behavior in their children, suggests a healthy coping strategy parents can model as an alternative, and requires a self-care task.
But children aren’t the only ones with negative behaviors. The training program helps parents create a home environment that doesn’t foster unhealthy perfectionism in themselves or their children, Zucker explains. Parents also learn to regulate emotions and avoid negative communication.
Zucker recently received grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Eating Disorders Association to assess the effectiveness of the parent training program.
Preliminary results show that parents strongly agreed the training program was essential for their children’s improvement.