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8 Year Old, Depressed and Stopped Eating: How to Make Him Happy?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 6 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Eating Disorders Grandson Separation


My 8 year old grandson has recently stop eating and complains of choking, which no one has actually seen. He has seen the doctor who has confirmed that nothing is wrong with his throat. His parents have recently divorced and although he sees his father a lot, he cries and wants to live with his dad. We feel his eating and general behaviour problems are due to these changes. His mother is seeking counselling for him. We are so worried about him and would like to know if we can bring him back to a happy place. He is a lovely lad and we are frantic with worry.

(H.H, 16 July 2009)


It's good that you have been to see a doctor to ensure that physically, his throat and related health are fine. You are right to be worried and to consider the recent divorce, which from what you have said, seems to suggest that your grandson is struggling with the changes and separation.

Eating Disorders or Depression?

When you say your grandson has stopped eating, it isn't clear if this is a significant reduction in food overall or if it's more his pattern of eating or perhaps that he is going for very long periods of time without food. This does sound like a symptom of an eating disorder and a key concern would be that his lowered intake of food could lead to nutritional deficiencies, stunted growth and anorexia nervosa or another eating disorder.

Eating disorders are generally much less common in males and particularly so at your grandson's young age but they do still exist. He may more simply not be eating because he is emotionally so 'wound up' that he has lost his appetite. On the other hand, he may be exerting control over the one aspect of his life he feels he can control – his food. Counselling is important but a dietitian with experience in eating disorders might also be helpful.

In the meantime, it would be good if he could be offered foods that pack a lot of nutritional punch, so that what he does eat gives him as much nutrition as possible. For example, foods such as nuts are good snacks that are calorie dense and packed with nutrients.

Separation Fears and Anxiety

It's actually positive that he seems to have a good relationship with his father enough to want to spend more time with him – or live with him. However, a desire to spend more time should not be one that leaves him distressed when he is with his mother.

How is his relationship with his mother? Has anything changed since the divorce? These are important questions that a qualified counsellor can address. It may be helpful to introduce both family counselling and for your grandson to receive individual counselling as well.

Help From Grandparents

For the time being, you can continue to stay involved and offer your support to your grandson and the entire family. Most likely, the single best thing you can offer that stems from your love is quite simply to listen to your grandson and be there for him if he needs to talk about his feelings. Hopefully, your support and the counselling or nutritional interventions can help him get back to a happy place.

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