When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, parents might spend a lot of time thinking
about the disease's physical effects. But emotional issues also come with a diabetes
So it's important for parents to recognize the feelings that kids with diabetes
might have and learn ways to help them.
How Do Kids With Diabetes Feel?
Kids often have these emotions after learning they have diabetes:
Isolation. Diabetes can make kids feel different from friends,
classmates, and family members. Kids who don't know other people with diabetes or
are the only student who needs to visit the school nurse for injections
or blood tests might feel isolated or alone.
Denial. Because kids want to blend in or be like other kids,
they may sometimes pretend that they don't have diabetes, which can be dangerous if
they avoid blood sugar testing and taking their medicine.
Depression. Feelings of depression,
sadness, and hopelessness are common among kids with diabetes. A child may cry a lot,
feel tired, have changes in eating or sleeping habits, or have a hard time sticking
to the diabetes management plan.
Guilt. Some kids may feel like diabetes is their fault or that
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, and frustrated by the diagnosis.
Many kids resent the restrictions that diabetes can put on their everyday activities.
Fear and anxiety. Blood sugar control problems, needles,
and the potential for long-term health problems can be scary for kids.
Embarrassment. Kids might be 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 kids.
Dependence. When kids find out they have diabetes, they might
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
How Can I Manage My Feelings?
Parents often go through a grieving process when they find out that their child
has a disease like diabetes. It can be hard to come to terms with the idea that a
child has a chronic condition that will need to be managed for the rest of his or
her life. It's normal to feel grief and sadness.
Many parents also feel guilty about their child's diabetes and wonder if they could
have prevented it somehow.
Some parents also might feel unsure about taking on the tasks of caring for a child
with diabetes, such as giving medicines and helping their child follow a meal
plan. It's also common to worry about recognizing symptoms of a diabetes problem
and getting the right medical help.
What can you do to cope with your own feelings? First, get nswers to your questions
from the health care
professionals caring for your child. Educating yourself about diabetes and the
best ways to manage it can help put your mind at ease. Also ask the care team for
information and tips on coping with your child's emotional issues.
It's important to see to your own needs as well as your child's. When you can,
let others — like relatives and friends — share the responsibilities of
caring for your family. Remember that you can't do it all.
What About Other Family Members?
When a child has diabetes, it affects the entire family. Siblings might resent
the extra attention that a child with diabetes gets, as well as sacrifices (like eating
healthier foods at family meals or going along to doctor appointments) made for the
sibling. And sometimes they're the target of anger and resentment because they don't
have to deal with the issues that the child with diabetes faces.
Family members like grandparents, aunts, and uncles also might worry about your
child's health. 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 everyone's worries and concerns.
You might find it easier to talk with a counselor, your child's doctor, or others
on the diabetes health care team about these emotional issues. Also, consider looking
for support groups, books, and websites about how to deal with diabetes. In time,
the whole family will adjust to dealing with the condition.
How Can I Help My Child?
Once you learn to recognize your child's feelings, here are some tips for coping
with those emotions:
Acknowledge your child's feelings.Check
in with your child regularly. Try to listen to everything he or she has to say
before bringing up your own feelings. This kind of communication doesn't always have
to be verbal. Drawing, writing, or playing music can help kids with diabetes express
Encourage active health care management. It's important to reinforce
the idea that when kids take good care of themselves and manage their diabetes, they
can avoid undesirable things like extra shots or missing out on activities that their
friends enjoy. Your child might even want to ask the doctor questions on his or her
Build independence. It can be hard, especially at first, but it's
important to resist the urge to lower your expectations or overprotect a child with
diabetes. Instead, encourage the same independence that you'd expect from your other
kids. With the encouragement and support of their parents, kids with diabetes can
take on some responsibilities for managing it — a change that often has a positive,
Help kids find their strengths. Is your child a reader, a hockey
player, a singer, a future astronomer, an art lover? Diabetes does not define someone's
life — it's only a very small part of who your child is.
Focus on friendships. Having fun with friends builds confidence
and a sense of belonging. Encourage your child to discuss diabetes with friends. This
can help friends feel more comfortable interacting with your child in the same way
they did before the diagnosis. Instead of focusing on the one thing that's different,
kids can focus on all the things that they have in common with their friends.
Find ways to cope with bullying. Sometimes kids pick on peers
with diabetes or other health problems. Your child might use the following ways to
deal with teasing or bullying:
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," head held high (this type of body language sends a message that your child
Use humor or give the bully a compliment to throw the bully off guard.
However, tell your child not to use humor to make fun of the bully.
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.
Correct misconceptions. Talk to your child about the fact that
people do nothing to deserve diabetes — it just happens. Also, if your child
feels like the diabetes is causing problems for you or your family, offer reassurance
that there's no reason to feel guilty. Instead, your child should focus on dealing
with his or her own feelings about diabetes, not yours.
Tell friends, teachers, and others about your child's diabetes.
Ask your child if he or she wants others to know about the diabetes. Kids sometimes
find it less embarrassing if friends and classmates know that they have diabetes —
that way, they don't have to worry about what their friends will think when they head
to the nurse's office every day. Teachers and care providers also should know about
the condition and its management (for instance, if your child takes breaks to test
blood sugar or eats snacks at certain times).
Connect with others dealing with diabetes. Finding a support group
for kids and families with diabetes can help kids to feel less different. These groups
can boost your confidence as you deal with diabetes and offer advice and tips on managing
it. The diabetes health care team might 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 can provide help for your child and advice for you. If your
child shows any signs of depression (such as lasting sadness or irritability, tiredness,
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 come with
the disease. Try to keep in mind that for most kids, negative feelings about diabetes
pass or change with time as they adjust to living with it.