Preventing the development of eating disorders must begin early in life and even include attitudes and behaviour not directly connected with food and eating. Knowledge about the influence of earlier experiences has become more certain. Parents need to be able to respond in various ways to the child's expression of various needs. In this way the organizing of initiative, inner control and self-awareness is supported.
Some earlier child welfare advice had opposite effects. According to Hilde Bruch, the rigid plan which was usual in the 1930's, was changed in the forties and fifties by campaigns which encouraged the parents to avoid letting children get frustrated and always accept them. The fault with both the above recommendations, which may appear opposite at first, was that they neglected children's own expressions for their impulses and bodily needs. This neglect led to faults in children's inner control.
The parent's readiness to fulfil the child's needs, but also to set necessary limits, are important for the interaction between parents and child. The parents must be able to distinguish between expressions of nutritional needs and expressions of unpleasant sensations. They must not use food as the universal mediator, pacifier or reward or punishment by stopping it. This attentiveness, which distinguishes between different needs, is the basis for children learning to think for themselves.
Parents can help their child to develop a healthy feeling of hunger and satisfaction by teaching it to accept the signals originating from its own body.
They should not impose their own opinions about when the child should eat upon the child. It is only the child itself who knows if it's hungry or satisfied. The parents should avoid to give the child food as consolation or reward. The child's own signals of hunger should determine whether the child should eat or not. Food should not be associated with anything other than physical hunger. The parents should make sure that there is healthy food at home and avoid tempting junk food. The child might like the junk food more and use it to satisfy its hunger and will not get the nourishment the body needs.
It is not easy for any parent to satisfy its child's needs. But if the parents themselves are emotionally disturbed or busy with their own problems, they face an even harder challenge.