Diabetes can take an emotional toll on your child (and you!). To help you reduce some of the stress, here are a few ideas on how you can support your child or teen.
You should encourage your child to talk about his diabetes. You can start by letting him know it’s ok to feel angry or upset. You should also ask if there is anything you can do to help. Sometimes all your child needs is for you to listen.
Stay cool about blood sugars
Blood sugars are bits of information. They tell us we need more insulin or more food, or we need less insulin or less food. Your child may want to please you by reporting only “good” blood sugars. Your child may be afraid she will get in trouble for “bad” blood sugars. Your child may also lie about blood sugars to keep out of trouble.
It can help if you use “high” and “low” when talking about blood sugars, rather than “good” and “bad.” And the less emotional you are about blood sugars, the better off everyone will be.
Know what to expect from your child or teen
As your child gets older, he can take over more of his diabetes care, with your supervision. These changes come slowly and over time. If you expect too much from your child, and he can’t do it, he feels like he has failed.
On the other hand, if you expect too little from your child. He may become angry and feel he is being treated like a baby. Know what is reasonable to expect from your child/teen for their diabetes tasks. Talk to your nurse practitioner or social worker.
Make sure your child’s diabetes insulin regimen fits his lifestyle
Some children/teens follow a routine. For them, insulin programs that work on time schedules might be best. Other children/teens, though, do not like to follow routines (they enjoy sleeping late or eating at odd hours). More flexible insulin programs may be better for them.
Be sure to talk to your nurse practitioner if you feel your child’s insulin program does not match her lifestyle.
Diabetes care involves many tasks throughout the day. It’s easy to focus on a missed blood sugar test, while not seeing that 2-3 other blood sugars were done. Notice and be pleased about the tasks that are done well, rather than constantly pointing out what is wrong.
Help your teen cope
Open communication between you and your teenager with diabetes is important. You should recognize that your teen wants to be treated as an adult, even if that means letting him take charge of his own diabetes management plan. Parents should also recognize that teens need:
- Spontaneity. Adolescence/teenage years are times of spontaneity, such as stopping for pizza after school. You can support your teen by helping him realize that managing his diabetes successfully will give him the flexibility he craves.
- Control. Teenagers want to be in charge of their own lives and create their own identities. To achieve this, your teen may sometimes test limits. A teenager with diabetes can use these experiences to gain valuable insight into managing her disease while learning to gain control over other parts of life.
Know when your child needs help
Your child may have a hard time with diabetes. She may become sad or angry. While it’s okay to feel this way some of the time, it is not ok to feel this way all the time. Call your nurse practitioner or social worker if you notice your child is:
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Eating more or less than usual
- Doing worse in school
- “Moody” and “in a bad mood” more than usual
- Having high a1cs
- Not wanting to do things he once enjoyed (not wanting to hang out with friends or play football anymore)
- Tired all the time and has low energy
- Gaining or losing weight
Know where to find help
There are a number of people who can help if you feel your child is suffering from an emotional problem because of diabetes:
- A Nurse Practitioner or social worker at the Diabetes Center for Children at CHOP can help figure out what is going on
- A school counselor can help your child manage his diabetes during the school day
- Your family doctor knows your child very well and may suggest seeing a counselor