Having the conversation: teachers and school staff

Key points:

  • Teachers and school staff are in an ideal position to notice when things are wrong
  • Early intervention and support leads to the best chance of recovery
  • It’s important to be sensitive and well prepared
  • Plan how the young person can be supported, either within or outside the school

As a teacher or school staff member, you may have noticed a student behaving differently or looking unwell, and suspect they might be developing an eating disorder. If you are worried, it is best to talk to them (and possibly their parents) to offer support and let them know how to seek professional help.

  • Teachers and school staff are in an ideal position to notice when things are wrong
  • Early intervention and support leads to the best chance of recovery
  • It’s important to be sensitive and well prepared
  • Plan how the young person can be supported, either within or outside the school
  • Depending upon their age you may need to include parents or another member of staff in the conversation. Your organisation/school welfare and duty of care policies will help guide you if you are unsure.
  • Find a time that works for everyone. Remember, this conversation could be difficult and take time. It may need to occur over several meetings.
  • Choose a quiet, private place to chat.
  • Be prepared and educate yourself about eating disorders.
  • Learn about options for seeking help –have some brochures ready and numbers for them to call for support.
  • Call EDV on 1300 550 236 if you would like some further tips or to practice what you are planning to say, or to order some brochures for your school.

Group discussion

What to do and say

  • Be up front about what you have noticed and open about your concerns.
    “I noticed on school camp you weren’t really joining in at mealtimes, and I’m worried about you. Can we talk about it?”
  • Be calm, honest and ready to listen.
  • Avoid mentioning weight or appearance
  • Address the impact that you have noticed on the young person’s:
    • Physical and mental health effects
    • Social connection with peers
    • Academic outcomes
  • Highlight the importance of early intervention and seeking professional help.
  • Use “I” statements and focus upon your feelings and theirs.
    “I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself lately – you’ve been late a few times and seem a bit snappy. I’m wondering how everything is going with you?”
    “It seems like a lot of girls in your year level are talking a lot about diets and calories. Can you tell me a little bit what your healthy diet plan is about?”
  • It’s important not to accuse them of having an eating disorder. It’s not your role to diagnose or solve the problem. It’s enough to share your concerns and support them to find appropriate
  • Discuss how your school or organisation can support this young person and their family
  • Provide leaflets or fact sheets that parents and guardians can take from the meeting to read and understand in their own time

Their reaction

Some parents may be relieved that you have noticed, some may be frustrated and others may be surprised as they had not yet noticed any signs of an issue. The child may be secretly relieved at being “found out”, angry, upset, or flatly deny there is a problem.

If the reaction wasn’t as positive as you were hoping, don’t be discouraged. You will not have made things worse for them, but helped them towards the very important first step of seeking professional support.

creating a body positive school