My 14 year old daughter has told me an 11 year old from our church is bulimic and anorexic. The child has loss a considerable amount of weight in three weeks and my daughter found her throwing up in the bathroom at the restaurant today.
How do I tell the parent's that there is a problem? My daughter is upset and wants to help.
Angela Celio Doyle, PhD responds:
This can be an awkward situation to address, but one that I would not shy away from. Before talking to the parents, I would ask yourself “Do I know all of the facts?” and “Is there an alternative explanation for this?”. Ultimately, I would guess your answer to these questions would be “No” and “Possibly”, respectively. With these things in mind, I would privately approach the 11-year old’s parents and mention what your daughter observed, acknowledging that you did not witness it yourself. However, you can mention that you noticed so-and-so has lost weight, so you did not want to ignore what might be seen as a possible eating disorder. Just describing what you have seen/heard is enough.
Be prepared that the parents may be very grateful for your concern (and may even assure you that they were looking into professional help) or, worst case scenario, they may be offended or angry that you approached them. Perhaps there is a medical illness that you are unaware of or perhaps the daughter has an eating disorder but the parents are unwilling to face that possibility at this point in time. In either case, you will have alerted them to what was observed, which is laudable.