How your child deals with being diabetic has a lot to do with how you have reacted to the news. If you react with shock and horror in front of the child, he/she will think that they have some ghastly and terrifying disease.
The whole family needs to make adjustments in dealing with this disease and there is a lot that can be done to minimise the stress for everyone. It is important to give attention to all your children – if you start focusing on your diabetic child to the detriment of the others, they will resent not the condition, but their sibling.
There are many pitfalls for parents when it comes to managing a family where diabetes is an issue. Obviously, the age of the child at the time of diagnosis plays a major role – a parent would react very differently to a child of four who has diabetes than to one of sixteen.
The following tips concern general family management for the families of diabetic children:
Agonise behind closed doors
Obviously this diagnosis will come as a shock to most parents, especially if the diagnosis is for Type 1 diabetes, which is most often the case in young children. The fact that daily injections are involved scare a lot of parents, but it is never wise to let your child see this. Children get terrified when they see their parents are scared. This is the time to exercise self-control in front of your children. Type 1 diabetes is not a death sentence and you should not react as if it is.
Information is power
Go to the library, speak to a doctor and get as much information as you can. Ignorance breeds fear. The more you know, the better able you will be to deal with the situation. Information will not only arm you, it will also enable you to manage your child’s diabetes more effectively and to be of assistance to the whole family in dealing with this condition.
Child first, diabetic second
Your child is still a child, with all the concerns of other children who are growing up – socially physically and emotionally. Encourage your child to continue with normal social activities and stress the similarities rather than the differences between her and other children. Be on the lookout for social isolation or depression in your child – two very normal reactions under the circumstances.
Children are not stupid, so it is never wise to lie to them or try to mislead them. Sit down with your diabetic child and explain the facts as calmly and as clearly as you can. Children have a remarkable ability to adapt to changes. It is also necessary for you to talk to your other children, as you will need their help and support. They may also have been scared silly, because diabetic comas often precede type 1 diabetes diagnosis in children.
Protect without being pushy
You need to walk the fine line between overseeing the diabetes management in your child and assuming full control over every aspect of his/her life. You need to supervise things like diet and medication, while promoting self-care. If you are overanxious, your child will be tense and overly dependent. Hovering like a hawk will only make your child think you don’t trust her and non-compliance with the doctor’s prescriptions will become a way of getting at you. This becomes especially true during adolescence.
Try to get things back to normal
Although the diagnosis of diabetes can have a huge effect on things such as the family diet, try and get things as close to normal as you can. This will give all your children a sense of security and they will respond to the recognised routine. If you usually go on holiday in December, continue to do so. If you usually have ice cream on Sundays, continue with it – maybe just switch to a different type, which is suitable for diabetics. Reasonable compromises are usually OK for parties and special occasions. Sometimes it is more important to belong than it is to stick to the diet scrupulously. Your child must not feel ‘different’ all the time.
Give your marriage a service
Check your relationship with your spouse. How is he/she dealing with the stress brought about by this diagnosis? How is your relationship doing? See a marriage counsellor to help you deal with this new situation.
Being diagnosed as diabetic can be frightening for your child. Young children are cruel about anyone who stands out from the crowd, for whatever reason. A child’s self-esteem and self image can be threatened by diabetes. Be aware of it. Consider counselling, not only for your diabetic child, but for the family as a whole.
There is no reason why you should cope with this by yourself. Find a diabetes support group close to where you live. It will be good for the whole family to speak to other families who are dealing with the same situation.
Don’t be a dragon
Accept that total control of the situation is not possible. Constant anxiety about "cheating" can be devastating to a child’s sense of self-esteem. With young children you need you to take full responsibility, but as a child grows older, you need to back down a bit. Involve your child in choices, such as which finger should be used to get the drop of blood from. A child of 12 is quite capable of taking over blood glucose testing and the management of their own injections some of the time. Your child will have to do this anyway, if they are not with you.
Overindulgence is dangerous
Bending the rules a little here and there is normal, but parents who feel so sorry for their children that they allow them to have special treats regularly or skip the daily injections, are endangering the health of their children. This inconsistency will also let the child feel unsafe and inadequate and could lead to feelings of low self-esteem in the long run.
Your child should not be made to feel that he/she is bad when they have eaten something that is not on their diet sheets. Or if their blood test results reveal a high blood sugar level. Remember to describe the result as high/low/normal, not as good and bad. The rest of the family should also be made aware of the fact that this condition is not a punishment and is not the result of anything that anyone has done. Other children should also not feel guilty if they eat sweets and chocolates, but get them to be considerate and to try not to do that in front of their diabetic sibling.
Your other children must know the danger signs of hyperglycaemia and be able to alert you when necessary, but never must they feel that they have to assume full responsibility for their sibling’s diabetes. The last thing you want is for your other children to become telltales concerning every morsel that passes your diabetic child’s lips. Don’t encourage this type of behaviour, as you will only encourage sibling strife, which is usually a problem in most families, diabetes or no diabetes.
(Susan Erasmus, (former school counsellor), Health24, updated February 2010)