If your child has been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may initially feel shocked, sad, angry, or guilty — all of these emotions are normal. However, the more you learn about diabetes, the better prepared you’ll be in educating your child about it.
Always speak to your child in an age-appropriate manner and always tell the truth. Don’t be put off by your child’s inquiries; answering them can help you learn more about diabetes as well. Children who have been diagnosed with diabetes may believe that they have done something to cause the disease. It is critical for parents to emphasize (especially to younger children) that this is not the case.
Make sure your child understands that diabetes is not going away and that it is normal to be sad or upset about it. Encourage your child to discuss it openly. Discuss the diabetes diagnosis with your other children, who may be jealous of their sibling’s extra attention or concerned about developing diabetes themselves.
Delivering the Right Message
Your words can send a strong message about diabetes — and your child’s role in managing it. Maintain a positive attitude. Stress the importance of working together to control diabetes. If your child deviates from the diabetes management plan, avoid using terms like “cheating” and “being bad.” Instead, teach your child about how food and exercise affect blood sugar levels.
Kids look to their parents for guidance, so how you handle diabetes may influence how your child discusses it with you. If you overreact to a high blood sugar level, for example, your child may be less than forthcoming with you about future blood sugar levels.
It’s also difficult to expect kids with diabetes to limit sugary treats or exercise on a regular basis if their siblings and parents don’t do the same. Hold a family discussion about why a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, not just diabetics. Include all family members in meal planning and other activities so your child does not feel isolated in his or her diabetes management.
Talks by Age Group
Based on a child’s age, here are some suggestions for diabetes discussions:
INFANTS AND TODDLERS
Infants and toddlers have no idea why they need shots or have their fingers poked. To assist, try to incorporate blood sugar testing and insulin administration into your child’s daily routine, such as diaper changes or going down for a nap. Perform diabetes care quickly and gently, in a soothing manner, and reassure your child afterwards with soothing words.
Preschoolers still rely on their parents for diabetes care. Simple diabetes-related tasks should be explained. Parents can also give their children a sense of control by allowing them to choose where they want their insulin injection and which finger to use for a blood glucose test.
GRADE SCHOOL THROUGH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
Children in grade school through middle school should be learning how to manage some of their diabetes care on their own, but they still require parental involvement. As your child gradually takes on self-care responsibilities, be supportive but not pushy. Your doctor or diabetes health care team will be able to advise you on which tasks are appropriate at each stage.
As children grow older, they become more interested in doing things on their own and more concerned about appearing different from their peers. Praise your child whenever he or she takes on a new self-care responsibility, but be understanding of temporary setbacks, which are especially common when children are stressed. Avoid overprotection and reinforce the expectation that children with diabetes can do anything that children without diabetes can do. Discuss how having your child take responsibility for their diabetes can make it easier for them to attend fun events such as parties and sleepovers.
Teens may make poor diabetes care decisions due to peer pressure, a fear of being different from their friends, and a sense of invincibility. It’s critical to discuss drugs, alcohol, sexuality, and other issues with your teen, as well as how they may affect their diabetes and overall health. There is a fine line between offering assistance and lecturing, so express your concerns with care.
Finding a support group for children of any age can help them connect with other diabetic children and feel less isolated. Open and honest communication is essential when discussing diabetes with children and teenagers. The more you discuss diabetes with your child and involve him or her in diabetes care, the better prepared you’ll both be when you’re apart.