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John Hunter Hospital School

John Hunter Hospital School

School, Family, Community

Telephone02 4985 5090

Information for teachers

The majority of eating disorders emerge during the teenage years when body image and self-esteem can be particularly vulnerable to outside influences.

School staff are well placed to spot the early signs of anorexia nervosa, enabling early diagnosis, early intervention and a far better prognosis. A child may feel more comfortable talking about food difficulties with a teacher rather than someone in their immediate family. The school can provide a bridge between the child, their family and other care providers to ensure the best possible outcome.

Most students with eating disorders remain for the most part at school. Only those who are seriously at risk of physically and/or psychologically are hospitalised. The challenge for those working with the young person is to provide a supportive and safe environment that does not contribute to their obsessive attention to food, weight or body image. it is important to evaluate with them their strengths and limitations, to help them accept these and set realistic goals that will guide them away for perfectionist thinking and behaviour.

Returning to school after hospitalisation can be a particularly difficult time as the expectation is the young person will now be "better". It is crucial to remember that recovery is a gradual and often very slow process. Change needs to take place at many levels - physical, psychological and behavioural. The restoration of a healthy weights, for example, will automatically translate into emotional balance and the giving up of disordered behaviour. Acceptance by parents, together with recognition that lapses can and do occur, will help to avoid placing undue stress on the young person.

School-specific warning signs

Some anorexia nervosa warning signs are more easily noticed at school. Teachers may notice some of the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Avoidance of PE or swimming
  • Excessive exercise
  • Busy during lunch breaks
  • Wearing extra clothing
  • Perfectionism
  • Inability to focus in class
  • Loss of friends.

If a child feels comfortable talking to you about  what's going on, remain calm and don't judge. Encourage the child to share their fears with questions such as, ‘You don't seem quite yourself lately, how can I help you?'.

Avoid talking about food or weight directly as this is likely to frighten the child. Focus on listening to the child. Work on building a trusting relationship and ensure that they know when and where they can talk to you further about what?'s on their mind.