National Eating Disorder Awareness Week
Children can come into foster care from various backgrounds, homes, lifestyles and can vary in age. This alone can be tricky for a foster carer to manage and although the best efforts are made to ensure carers are aware of any physical or emotional challenges children have had prior to entering your home it’s not always possible.
If you suspect your foster child may have an eating disorder there may be various different signs to look out for. Causes of eating disorders include stress, low self-esteem, poor self-image, depression, anxiety, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, pressure at school, bullying, bereavement, domestic abuse or breakdown of family relationships.
What can we do to help:
Stress and anxiety: The first thing to do is see if anything is worrying the child. Stress and anxiety can affect a child’s appetite as much as an adult. If you feel the child is stressed or anxious it may be a good idea to talk with the child, however the way in which you do so is important; in privacy is the best way to handle this rather than in an environment with other children/adults. If you find the child is not openly sharing information you may need to take your time making sure you are coming across relaxed and gentle. It’s important that if any problems arise they are dealt with as soon as possible.
Attention: it’s important that all children receive equal amounts of attention. Children who feel they are lacking attention do irrational things to try gain attention. One example would be refusing food.
Portion sizes: Ensure portion sizes are suitable based on the child’s age. Generally speaking a good rule of thumb is a child’s stomach is the size of their fists. If you give a child too much food then it’s not unreasonable for them to leave some however on the contrary to that; if you are serving smaller portions it’s always best to let the child know if they are still hungry they can have seconds.
Variety of meals: it’s important to understand the kind of foods your child likes and create meals around it. It’s also important to not complicate meals; keep them simple, especially with young children. If a plate has too many different foods they may choose to eat nothing. Snacking should be kept to a minimum as this may affect their appetite come dinner time however a small snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon is reasonable.
Dislikes: A child may have genuine dislikes. If a child has shown a dislike to a certain food don’t force a child to eat it. All children have food preferences and a few dislikes are acceptable, but refusing to eat all nutritious food is not.
Manipulating or control: Food should never be a means of control. If the child is showing signs of using food consumption as a means of control then don’t be tempted to give them something different. Sometimes a child can use food refusal or fussiness as a way of controlling or manipulating a carer or the situation.
Lastly and obviously, use common sense. There is no need to worry if a child or young person doesn’t want to eat one day. But if they consistently refuse food or show worrying behaviour around it then you may need to seek professional advice.
If you are a Nurture Foster Carer and feel you need additional support please call us on 0208 690 9012.