Dear Dr. Bill,
My 14-year-old daughter has always been quiet and she doesn’t like to talk about her feelings. She had some health problems when she was young, and I’m sure she felt like I was constantly worrying about her—which I was. Since then I’ve tried hard to balance when she needs my advice and when she just needs me to listen.
Now I worry that she may be suffering from a poor body image — yet she won’t talk about it. I feel like she’s hiding things from me and my husband, and I’m at a loss how to confront her without alienating her or hurting our relationship. Do you have any advice for our family?
I appreciate your concern for your daughter and your sensitivity to her feelings. Rather than trying to force her to open up, I think the best approach would be to focus on spending more one-on-one time with her, just having fun. Now that summer is here, you might invite her to take walks with you in the evening. It’s a good way to get some exercise and it offers a great opportunity for natural conversation. You could also go shopping together or go out for hot chocolate on Saturday mornings.
Don’t press her to talk about her feelings, but look for natural opportunities to discuss deeper issues. Try to ask open-ended questions rather than give advice. Chances are your daughter will gradually open up, as she realizes that she can safely share her thoughts and feelings with you.
If you’re concerned that she may be at risk of anorexia or bulimia, I’d encourage you seek professional help immediately. Psychological treatment for eating disorders typically involves the entire family.
By the way, Focus on the Family offers an excellent book on eating disorders. It’s entitled “Hope Help and Healing for Eating Disorders,” by Dr. Gregory Janz. You learn more about it by contacting Focus at 1-800-A-FAMILY.
Thanks for writing Tanya. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.