When your child is first diagnosed with diabetes, you may spend
a lot of time thinking about how diabetes affects your child's
body. But there are many emotional issues that surround a diabetes
diagnosis, too. The emotional transition that your child goes
through after he or she has been diagnosed with diabetes may affect
his or her ability to manage the physical aspects of the
So it's important to recognize the feelings that your child
with diabetes might experience and learn strategies to help your
child and your entire family cope with them.
Your Child's Feelings
Kids often experience these emotions when they are confronted
Diabetes can make kids feel different from peers, friends, and
family members. If your child doesn't know other people with
diabetes or he or she is the only one who needs to visit the
or blood tests during school, your child might feel isolated or
Because kids want to blend in or be like other kids, they may
sometimes pretend that they don't have diabetes, a practice
that can be dangerous if they avoid blood sugar testing and
, sadness, and hopelessness are common among kids with diabetes.
Your child may cry a lot, feel exhausted, have changes in eating
or sleeping habits, or have a hard time sticking to the diabetes
management plan because he or she is depressed.
Some kids may feel like diabetes is their fault or like
they're causing problems for parents, siblings, and teachers
because of their diabetes.
Anger, frustration, and resentment:
Your child might be angry at you because you oversee testing and
treatment or frustrated or resentful that he or she has the
disease and others don't. Many children feel angry because of
the restrictions that diabetes sometimes places on their everyday
Fear and anxiety:
Blood sugar control problems, needles, and the potential for
long-term health problems can be scary prospects for kids to deal
with. And in some cases, fearfulness can be the result of
incorrect information kids have received about the diabetes.
Kids with diabetes can feel embarrassed about the extra attention
they get, like when they're testing blood sugar and injecting
insulin at school, at friends' homes, and in front of other
When kids find out they have diabetes, they may begin acting
younger than their age and depending on parents more than their
peers. The progress that they'd typically be making toward
self-reliance can stop or reverse course.
Parents often go through a grieving process when they find out
that a child has a disease like diabetes. It can be difficult to
come to terms with the idea that your child has a chronic condition
and will need to cope with it for the rest of his or her life.
It's normal for you to feel grief and sadness.
Many parents also feel guilty about their child's diabetes
and wonder whether they could have
it in some way. Some parents may also feel reluctant or unsure of
taking on the tasks of caring for a child with diabetes, such as
administering medications and helping their child follow a
. Parents may also worry whether they'll be able to recognize
symptoms of a diabetes problem and get the right medical help for
What can you do to cope with your own feelings? First, don't
hesitate to get the answers to your questions from the
health care professionals
caring for your child. Educating yourself about your child's
condition and the best ways to manage it can do a lot to put your
mind at ease. Your child's doctor can provide information to
allay your fears and worries and offer tips for coping with your
child's emotional issues.
In the midst of caring for your child, don't forget to
attend to your own needs. Get appropriate rest, exercise, and food.
To the extent possible, permit others - like relatives and friends
- to share the responsibilities of caring for your family. Remember
that you can't do it all.
Your Family's Feelings
When a child has diabetes, it affects the entire family.
Siblings may feel resentful of the extra attention that your child
with diabetes is getting, as well as any sacrifices (like eating
healthier foods at meals or going along to doctor appointments)
they may have to make to accommodate the sibling. Siblings are
sometimes the target of a diabetic child's anger and resentment
because they don't have to deal with the issues that the child
with diabetes faces every day.
Family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles may also be
worried and fearful about your child's health condition. Try to
talk openly about all of these feelings with your family. Holding a
family meeting might be one way to break the news of your
child's diagnosis and address the worries and concerns of
family members. You might find it easier to talk with a
or the doctor or diabetes health care team about the feelings that
you and your family are coping with. Your family may also find
comfort in support groups, books, and websites about how to deal
with diabetes. In time, the whole family will become accustomed to
dealing with this condition.
Tools for Helping Your Child
Once you learn to recognize the feelings that your child with
diabetes may experience, there are steps you can take to help cope
with those emotions.
Acknowledge your child's feelings.
Check in with your child
regularly about his or her feelings about diabetes. Try to listen
to everything your child has to say before bringing up your own
feelings and explanations. This kind of communication doesn't
always have to be verbal. Drawing, writing, or playing music can
help a child with diabetes express his or her emotions.
Encourage your child to play an active role in his or her
It's important to regularly reinforce the idea that when kids
take good care of themselves and manage their diabetes, they can
avoid undesirable things like extra shots or sitting out of
activities that their friends and peers are doing. Your child may
even want to ask the doctor questions on his or her own.
It may be difficult, especially at first, but it's important to
resist the urge to lower your expectations or overprotect your
child who has been diagnosed with diabetes. Rather, it's
important to encourage the same independence that you'd expect
from your other children. If young people have the encouragement
and support of their parents, they can take on some
responsibilities for managing diabetes - a change that often has a
positive, confidence-building effect.
Help your child find his or her strengths.
Help your child form a strong picture of his or her identity. Who
is your child? A reader, a hockey player, a son, a daughter, a
grandchild, a student, a future astronomer, or an art lover? Your
child is also a person in control of diabetes, but this does not
define a person's life - it's only a very small part of who
Focus on friendships.
Encourage your child to have fun with friends, which builds
confidence and a sense of belonging. Your child should know that
it's OK to discuss diabetes with friends. Instead of focusing
on the one thing that's different, kids can focus on all the
things that they have in common with their peers.
Find ways to cope with bullying.
Sometimes kids pick on children with diabetes or other health
problems. Your child might use the following ways to deal with
Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully.
Tell your child to look the bully in the eye and say something
like, "I want you to stop right now." Counsel your
child to then walk away and ignore any further taunts. Encourage
your child to "walk tall" and hold his or her head up
high (using this type of body language sends a message that your
child isn't vulnerable).
Use humor or give the bully a compliment to throw the bully
However, tell your child not to use humor to make fun of the
Use the buddy system.
Enlisting the help of friends or a group may help both your child
and others stand up to bullies.
Tell an adult.
If your child is being bullied, emphasize that it's very
important to tell an adult. Teachers, principals, parents, and
lunchroom personnel at school can all help to stop it.
Dispel misconceptions your child may have.
Talk to your child about the fact that people do nothing to deserve
diabetes - it just happens. Also, if your child feels like his or
her diabetes is problematic for you or your family, reassure your
child that he or she doesn't need to feel guilty. Remind your
child to focus on dealing with his or her own feelings about
diabetes, not yours.
Tell friends, teachers, and peers about your child's
Kids sometimes find it less embarrassing if they tell friends and
classmates that they have diabetes - that way, they don't have
to worry what their friends will think when they head to the
nurse's office every day. Talk to your child about how he or
she would feel if other people knew about the diabetes. Your
child's teacher or child-care provider should also know about
your child's condition and steps he or she might take to manage
it (like taking breaks to test blood sugar or eating snacks at
Connect with other children and families dealing with
Finding a support group for kids and families with diabetes can
help to connect your child with other kids with diabetes so he or
she feels less different. These groups can also help you bolster
your confidence as you deal with diabetes and offer advice and tips
as you manage your child's health condition. Your child's
diabetes health care team may be able to help you connect with
support groups in your area.
Get help when you need it.
Be sure to keep your child's
diabetes health care team
in the loop about any emotional issues - they deal with this all
the time, and they can provide help for your child and advice for
you. If your child seems to be suffering from signs of depression,
such as prolonged sadness or irritability, fatigue, appetite
changes, or changes in sleeping habits, talk to your child's
doctor or a mental health professional.
Every parent of a child with diabetes must deal with the
feelings that surround the disease. Try to keep in mind that most
of kids' negative feelings about diabetes pass or change with
time as they adjust to living with diabetes.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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