Dealing with Unexpected Challenges of Childhood Diabetes
By Lindsey Konkel
Parents of children with diabetes have a lot to learn. If your child has diabetes, you know all about the finger pricks, the injections, the carb counting...but what about the more unexpected challenges? Here are some helpful strategies for coping with related issues, such as sibling jealousy, puberty, independent teens and more.
Childhood Diabetes and Sibling Rivalry
"It's easy to become all diabetes, all the time," says Reston, VA, mother of three Beth McNamara, whose oldest son, Rob, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008 at age 12. All the attention you need to focus on your child with diabetes can create jealousy, fear and guilt among siblings, says Deborah Butler, M.S.W, C.D.E., a licensed social worker at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
To stave off negative feelings, check in with your other kids on a regular basis and let them know it's okay to feel angry or scared. Ask questions, such as, "How are you feeling about your brother's condition? Anything you want to talk about?"
"Siblings need to feel included and know that their feelings are important," says Butler. To this end, ask them to help with age-appropriate diabetes tasks. McNamara encourages her middle son, Jeremy, now 13, to pitch in at local diabetes events. "He had a great time helping plan a bowling outing for all the families," she says. If problems continue, meet with a psychologist or social worker to help you work through family issues as they arise.
Address Diabetes-Related Food Concerns
After McNamara's son was diagnosed, her youngest, Duncan, a first-grader at the time, was upset because he thought the family would never eat ice cream again. To reduce tension over treats, Butler suggests keeping few sweets in the house, but making a weekly family outing to your favorite dessert spot. "A child with diabetes can still have dessert occasionally. It just takes additional planning," she says.
Watch for Caregiver Burnout
Caring for a family while managing your child's diabetes can be exhausting. And if you're feeling worn out, the whole family will feel the impact. "Don't do it alone," says Butler. In a two-parent family, trade off tasks. If you keep track of blood glucose readings, medications and doctors' appointments, have your partner run errands, make lunches or drop the kids off at sports practice.
In addition, teach close friends and family the basics of your child's diabetes care. This will give you the freedom to put someone else in charge while you get away for a couple of hours from time to time to take care of yourself.
Build Support for the Entire Family
As kids grow and change, the family's need for diabetes support shifts too. Diabetes camps are an excellent place for youngsters to start building their own support networks. Local support groups, for teens and tweens, are also a help. Check with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or the American Diabetes Association for camps and groups in your area. Also, ask about the availability of teen counselors. "A young adult mentor can be a role model and relate to what your teen is going through," says McNamara.
Adapted from our sister publication Diabetes Focus (Summer 2012).