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I've made a terrible mistake telling my 6 year old about anorexia - what can I do to stop her feeling so worried?

(28 Posts)
merrygoround Wed 27-Aug-08 22:20:28

This morning I showed my 6 year old daughter a couple of photos (from the internet) of women who were suffering with anorexia. I suppose most people reading this must think I was mad or stupid, and looking back I now regret it. At the time I was trying to explain to her why being thin is not a goal that is a sensible one, and that if anyone tells her she is fat then she should take no notice. She is not fat, in fact she is skinny, but I am aware that even at her age there is a pressure to be thin, and it alarms me.

Anyway, tonight at bathtime she suddenly got very upset, and said she was starving, and wanted some food. I gave her an apple, as she'd already eaten a good dinner. Once in bed she seemed very fidgety and kept on putting her head under the covers - in the end she burst into tears and told me she thought she was too thin - because she can feel her bones. I did all I could to reassure her, and she then started crying because she felt sorry for "those ladies" (ie the ones she saw in the pictures).

I felt absolutely terrible, and still do. My dp is furious with me, and I am furious with myself.

My instinct is to say nothing more about it, I have already told her I wish I hadn't shown her the pictures and that I never meant to upset her. I have told her that she is perfect as she is, and that if anyone is to do any worrying it is me, not her because she is a child and I am her mother. (Some mother). She eats like a horse by the way and is full of energy.

Does anyone have any advice about what I should or should not do or say if the subject comes up again?

edam Wed 27-Aug-08 22:24:21

Oh dear.

Um, just lots of reassurance that she is fine, those poor ladies are very ill and it's very sad but it is NOT an illness she has?

AvenaLife Wed 27-Aug-08 22:25:16

sad How about telling her that these ladies don't eat because they have a different kind of illness. As long as she eats then she won't be like this, they are only thin because they are not eating, it's normal to feel your bones, especially in places like your wrist or chest because this is normal. Then show her your wrists and ankles.

She'll still be thinking about it, even if she doesn't talk about it. Your best bet is talking to her about a healthy diet. These ladies don't have one, which is why they are so thin.

bagofhammers Wed 27-Aug-08 22:27:12

Maybe you could tell her that it takes a really long time to get too thin or too fat. You could say that she would have to hardly eat anything until her 12th birthday before she became like the women in the photos. She probably doesn't understand the scale of time. Tell her that she is ok because you are her mummy and you will always look after her properly and make sure she has enough food to keep her the right size.

merrygoround Wed 27-Aug-08 22:38:49

thanks for the sensible suggestions, I will definitely use them. Thanks again, just for responding because dp is so angry that he won't even speak to me so I feel a bit alone. It's all just swimming around my head and above all I am feeling so stupid. Now I am afraid I've put something in dd's head that was never even there in the first place.

edam Wed 27-Aug-08 22:41:10

It was clearly not one of your best ideas but it could have been worse... my mother put us (her, my sister and me) on the Cambridge diet. 300 calories a day in milkshakes. I was a size 10 at the time! (Aged 16ish.)

So at least you aren't a. alone or b. the maddest of the mad. HTH!

HonoriaGlossop Wed 27-Aug-08 22:48:20

I agree with Edam to re-assure her that this is not something SHE has but something those ladies have. It's not catching, and she won't get it, ever, because in your house you all have a healthy diet.

Be as definite as you can with her I think. It's probably worth bringing it up with her just once to say something like this, then I'd leave it but be extra vigilant for signs of worry and gently prompt her to talk to you if you see any.

And go easy on yourself, you were only trying to help her....i'd tell DP that he can't be angrier with you than you's no help to anyone if he won't talk to you!

merrygoround Wed 27-Aug-08 22:50:35

Edam, at least you raised a smile from me. TBH this has made me realise that I worry insanely about things that might never happen, and as a result I do things that I THINK will control the situation, but in fact are so misjudged that they make it worse (IYSWIM). I think I need to let go a bit, and trust that my dd won't end up with some terrible condition (and that even if she does it is not necessarily my fault). Maybe that's why people sometimes tell me I need to chill out a bit......

edam Thu 28-Aug-08 09:50:13

Glad I cheered you up! 'Stop worrying' is such hard advice to follow. But worth making the attempt. Perhaps when you find yourself worrying, you should stop and count to ten, then ask yourself 'is this really likely to happen'?

merrygoround Thu 28-Aug-08 23:31:15

My dd has had a terrible day, and every time I look at her sad, scared face I want to cry. She woke in the early hours and couldn't sleep with worrying, and she can't stop feeling her body - her hands round her thighs, her arms, but above all her tummy and her ribs. She has asked me about 20 times if she is "OK", and I am obviously not reassuring her enough. When she is not feeling anxious about herself, she is crying for "those ladies" - the ones in the pictures that I so regrettfully showed her.

I am trying to stay positive, and have taken all the suggestions on the thread on board, and at least dp is being positive now - he told me I should stop beating myself up, and that he is sure everything will be Ok given a bit more time. He took her mind off it all by helping dig for worms in the garden, and it was so nice to see our usual child back again for a while.

I can't help feeling I've totally spoiled her holidays, and have taken away some of her innocence. I don't think I ever understood until now the idea of a child not having the capacity to deal with certain ideas - mine always seems so "grown up", but boy was I wrong.

I'm posting because I feel I need to share this, maybe its like a confessional, but of course I am also hoping for any reassurance that I haven't caused permanent damage to my dd. How on earth will she get over this - she has told me through tears that she wishes she'd never seen the pictures and that I'd never shown them to her.

sophiebbb Thu 28-Aug-08 23:39:28


One of my friends used to say to me (when I was stressing about something I had done)

"Don't worry about what you have already done (because it is done), simply worry about all those things you could do wrong in future"

Well it helped me anyway.

It is done now. Don't stress about it anymore. Simply spend time reassuring her.

thornrose Thu 28-Aug-08 23:43:25

I have an extremely anxious child and what your describing is a weekly occurrence in our house sad With her its things she sees on tv or hears in conversation etc so a bit different but same effect. In my experience she will forget about it in time.
Also, imagine if she'd caught sight of a news story about something traumatic which really affected her? It happens.
Please stop worrying, she will be fine, guaranteed.

notsoteenagemum Thu 28-Aug-08 23:44:26

Please try not to worry although children aren't always able to deal with certain issues like you say, they are able to bounce back and get over things quite remarkably. If it helps I can see your reasoning for showing the pics my DD is overly concerned about weight, and always asks if I think she's thin. Its hard to know what to do sometimes, and while you did make a mistake you had good intentions.

gagarin Thu 28-Aug-08 23:51:03

Well - one thing to realise is that for some people pictures get stuck in their memories because for them their visual senses are very strong.

But these mental images do go away with time. How about trying to link the nasty images with something nicer?

Choose a nice picture from the computer - maybe those hilarious talking cats on You Tube and play it over and over together laughing at the cats, deciding which one is your favourite. Then ask her if she can play the video "in her head" and suggest she does that if nasty thoughts come into her mind.

Not sure it'll work but it might.

S1ur Thu 28-Aug-08 23:52:21

SHe is so little still. Poor lass.

I have a suggestion,

how about you go in to her room in the morning bright and cheerful and tell her that you've found out that those women can be helped to get better and they can make their bodies strong and healthy with lots of yummy food and playing. So it's going to be ok!

I also suggest you look at everyone around you and talk about the amazing variety of body shapes that are all 'healthy'. Working towards the idea that all sorts of sizes are ok, and that people are meant to be different and that bodies change over time.

People aren't meant to be the same as each other or at different ages. And through all wobblyness/skinniness they can still be healthy.

<not the time to introduce obesity!>

HonoriaGlossop Thu 28-Aug-08 23:53:36

oh please don't beat yourself up. You're so clearly a loving and involved mum and that will HUGELY influence her childhood more than one lot of worrying pictures. It won't have done her long term damage at all.

One thing that might help though, is to watch just how 'worried' you are seeming about it. I can imagine, feeling so awful as you do about it, that you're earnestly trying to re-assure her because she's upset. Of course you must be sympathetic and listen to her, but try not to project all the emotions you have about it. It might be worth goofing around a bit - if she mentions it again. Listen and respond properly but maybe when you can you could just say something like "Oh, how silly am I? I should tell myself off for doing it. What will be my consequence? Don't tell me I am not allowed my chocolate tonight"............if you're lightening the mood etc hopefully she will join in the sentiment, bar you from chocolate, and you can race to get it before she can hide it, etc.......

Obv the scenario is just an idea, but I think what I'm saying is that yes you need to understand her worries but the less worried you are, the less worried she will be in my opinion.

merrygoround Thu 28-Aug-08 23:57:18

Thanks for those sensitive posts, my own emotion is coming out now she is in bed, so I am a bit tearful. I do feel reassured by what's been written, and will keep on reassuring and trying to keep life normal.

Thornrose, something weird about yesterday was that my dd was playing in the afternoon at doing a radio programme with her best friend, where they were speaking through one of those toy microphones. I heard her calmly announcing in her best newsreader voice "A teenager has been stabbed in London today"....... She seemed totally at ease with this. Mind you, her friend (who has a teenage brother and sister) was less happy, and quickly followed up the announcement with "and he is recovering in hospital and will be OK".

Amazing how children are affected by some things and not at all by others.

thornrose Fri 29-Aug-08 00:02:15

If you'd inadvertently upset your dd about, for example,cancer would you feel the same? I think it's the subject matter, are you worried that you've put the idea of eating disorders in her head? Sorry if that's totally off base!
I'm loving the friends follow up announcement!

merrygoround Fri 29-Aug-08 00:17:10

Thornrose, I have been asking myself similar questions to yours actually. Yes, part of me fears that I have planted the seed of an idea in her head, and knowing the relentless pressure on girls / women to conform to certain body stereotypes I do fear that all I have done is make her as obsessed about her body as someone suffering with anorexia, or indeed many of us who want to lose that elsusive half a stone.

I was wondering if I'd feel the same if I'd shown her a picture of someone who was suffering with a serious illness, and in a way I think I would. She's lost a nan, and never met my dad who died before she was born, so she is aware of death, but that's different to having thrust in your face I suppose. She's been asking questions about death and dying since she was three, but never really got upset.

What it was about the anorexia issue that has affected her so I don't fully understand. Maybe because in our house we playfully call her a "skinny minnie" (not any longer.....) and that has made it somehow close to home?

She is a dramatic kind of girl, with a nervous disposition, so I suppose the ingredients were all there for a big reaction.

thornrose Fri 29-Aug-08 00:59:25

My dd goes through phases of asking "have I eaten too much, my tummy is sticking out?", "am I fat", "am I thin" (along with "will I have a heart attack?", "will I get epilepsy" ad infinitum.)
I talk about healthy eating and comment on how lovely and healthy her meals are (not overkill though). I also reassure her that I wouldn't let her eat too much/too little. I tell her I will give her exactly what she needs to be healthy, she really likes that one, I even get a little smile!

merrygoround Fri 29-Aug-08 10:51:03

Thornrose, my dd is a bit better today, after a good night's sleep. She is still asking every five minutes if her body is OK, and when I ask her why she is feeling her ribs she says that its to make sure she hasn't got "that illness". I think the message that she can only get it by not eating and it would take a long time is beginning to get through though.

How old is your dd?

thornrose Fri 29-Aug-08 11:01:39

So glad she's feeling better, the message will get through slowly but surely.
My dd is 8, 9 next month. She has Aspergers which contributes to/causes her anxiety!
We just bought a new book which I'm raving about called, "What to do when you worry too much : A kid's guide to overcoming Anxiety". We are working through it and it has some good techniques to help anxious children.

merrygoround Sat 30-Aug-08 10:44:32

The book sounds good, I may look into it myself. With my dd I have used a book called "I can handle it" before (mostly dealing with school related nerves), which is a child's version of "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway", but it is not really adequate. Is anxiety always a part of Aspergers? Is it a case of learning to cope with it rather than overcoming it?

My dd is still prodding her ribs and stomach every five minutes and asking if she is OK, and when I asked this morning if she was worried she had the illness she said she is worried that she might get it later. So I am continuing to explain that you only get it by not eating, and that it would take a long time.

ninedragons Sat 30-Aug-08 10:57:25

Is it worth pointing out that anorexia is a really quite rare disease and something most people never get?

Her concept of disease might be informed by things like colds and chicken pox that do the rounds at school, so she might be thinking that everyone gets it at some point.

ninedragons Sat 30-Aug-08 11:06:46

Just thinking about this some more, depends on how you feel about lying to your DD, but if she really is working herself up about it you could blind her with a bit of science about live vaccines and how the polio vaccine used to come on a sugar cube but these days it's only the vaccine for anorexia. Give her a sugar cube and tell her she's now been vaccinated.

And check your net nanny software to make sure it blocks those odious pro-anorexia sites. I'd keep an eye on the search history for the next few months in case she has privately returned to the internet.

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