Thursday 19 April 2012

"Points STILL win prizes!"

Without doubt, one of the Number One drivers in moving Ben's recovery from anorexia forward over the past 13 months has been our Recovery Contract (see the tabbed link at the top or click here to find out more). I introduced it on 20th March 2011 after a mum in the States emailed me the Contract she uses for her daughter. It worked for them, so - fed up with being stuck in a kind of Limboland with Ben at the time - I decided to give it a try. We never looked back - and if you are looking for something to put the dynamite into your child's recovery, it might just work for you.

I've got a friend who I'll call R who originally got in touch with me because of this blog. She has a teenage son with anorexia and we've been in close contact ever since.

Her son is doing well, but there are still sizeable sticking points - 'challenges' he finds it hard to overcome like 'challenge foods' or whatever. This is exactly what it was like for Ben, so I suggested she try out a Contract, too.

Of course, like anything, Contracts don't work for everyone. All I can say is that it's worked stupendously for us over the past 13 months. Without it, we'd almost certainly be months behind in progress.

Introduced carefully (i.e. not enforced on your child, and with mutual agreement), it could just work. So what the heck? Why not give it a go?

You'll quickly know if it isn't working or if your child's resisting it, telling lies or whatever.

And if it doesn't work, simply remove it. You could always re-introduce it at a later date when your child might be more receptive.

I was fortunate in that Ben was enthusiastic about the Contract from the start. I was careful to position it as something that was a two-way process i.e. not something I was forcing or inflicting on him.

ED, the eating disorder, was - of course - not welcome. But as long as I was sure it was the 'real Ben' speaking, I listened to what he had to say and we adjusted the Contract together.

The Contract is very flexible. By this I mean it can be adjusted as and when it needs to be, by mutual agreement (ED not allowed). Back at the start it was pretty extensive with points being awarded for all kinds of things from daily calories to school attendance, challenges and keeping to an agreed amount of exercise.

Nowadays, points are awarded for challenges only, because Ben has got the other issues under control, mainly as a result of the Contract helping him to do this.

New challenges become old challenges then disappear altogether. Other challenges are introduced which are things I could never in a million years have dreamed that Ben would eat or do when he was drowning in the anorexia.

I don't assign challenges for him, he chooses them himself. Nor do I insist he faces X number of challenges a day, but I do expect at least one proper challenge a day. But, because this is a positive, encouraging exercise, I never show disappointment if he doesn't manage to achieve any.

Talking about the day's challenges is a great time to say "Well done, I'm really proud of you" or whatever else encourages your child to take on more challenges and feel good about themselves.

Of course with our Contract "Points also win prizes". Ben's benefited from it financially yet it never seemed like a bribe. It's been similar, I guess, to rewarding your child for doing housework or mowing the lawn.

He's kept to his side of the bargain and I've kept to mine.

Here's what I said to R today (BTW she gave me her permission to reproduce this):

I found with the ED that you have to keep trying. You can't give up and let the ED win, although I know I did on a few occasions... (more than a few actually when you just get so exhausted and end of tether that you think sod it...)
As E was recovering I used to say things like "That's the ED speaking and you know I don't listen to the ED" and plough on... I made a point of never going down the "Just try a little bit and we'll leave it at that" route because that's colluding with the ED, too.

This is where the Contract worked really well for us because something like this would become one of the 'challenges'. We'd talk about it before the event - not confrontational but when we sat down for our daily 'equal footing' chat about how things are going. With the Contract it's like 'No Mans Land' or neutral ground. During these chats we can each say anything and there's an unwritten rule that neither of us is allowed to bite each other's head off - just talk it out sensibly and warmly, but NEVER in an ED-colluding way!!!

I just ask loads of questions, probing and encouraging questions which don't appear critical in any way.

So, if this was about burgers, we'd discuss what it is about burgers that he's finding challenging, making it clear (in a non confrontational / critical way) that burgers ARE on the menu because burgers are 'normal' and we're aiming at 'normal' ("Ed's stolen enough years of your life already and I refuse to let it steal any more. I want you to be normal. You want you to be normal. Burgers are normal - and think of all the other things you're fine with now that, just a few weeks or months ago, would have been challenges, hey? Burgers are no different, just the latest 'challenge' food. You overcame the other challenges and this is no different.") Kind of thing...

Do you think a contract would work with you?

Ben swears by it. He says that the contract, together with his psych and me, is probably the #1 thing that helped him over the past 12 months. He calls it "The Batty Method"!!

If you'd like help with formulating a contract or talking your son into the concept of a contract (which Ben embraced straight away, to my delight!!!), just shout! I will do all I can to help because you know I hate ED as much as you do.

And scroll down Laura Collins' awesome blog for reinforcements - Laura hates ED more than anyone else, I think! (And she's just written her 1500th blog post!)

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