Finding their place in the schoolyard pecking order can be tough for any child, but feeling like you’re ‘one of a kind’ – the one doing finger pricks, taking insulin, eating right and dodging hypos – can put you on the back foot if your self-esteem is shaky. “Children with diabetes often find it’s a source of embarrassment,” explains Mirella Donaldson from JDRF. “They might fear having a hypo in class, or resent the curious audience of schoolmates watching on while they do their blood glucose testing or pump adjustments. The kids who cope the best are open and honest about the condition and they’re prepared for those situations they fear.” This is where parents and guardians play a key role. By arming your child with coping skills and educating the people around them about their diabetic needs, you diffuse everyone’s anxiety and make it far easier for your child to fit in and feel safe, secure and confident. You can’t watch over your child 24/7 but, by adopting the following strategies, you can help them feel ready to cope with any curve ball diabetes throws their way.
TACKLING IT AS A TEAM
When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, it affects the whole family, so it’s important that everyone is on the same page. “If parents are at odds or inconsistent about management, their child’s confidence may suffer, as they feel confused, tense and guilty about being a burden,” says Professor Lawrence Fisher of the Diabetes Centre at the University of California, San Francisco.Lack of unity between parents about their child’s diabetes care can have major ramifications. “I’ve seen numerous relationships where battles are so intense that one spouse pulls away and the child feels they are causing friction, or will play one parent off against the other,” says Professor Fisher. “You need a shared perspective on how much independence they can be allowed. Look to a support group, online chat forums or JDRF. You need people around as a comfort and resource. Try talking to others who have children with diabetes.” Professor Fisher believes kids thrive best where there is a strong framework, with parents in agreement on key issues. So, aim to:
- Lay down firm rules Set guidelines, but let your child make decisions within these. For instance, they check their blood glucose before and after a meal but can decide where they do it and if they show you the results. “Knowing what they need to do to effectively manage their condition can really help them feel safe and more in control,” says Professor Fisher.
- Divvy up your parenting responsibilities This will ensure that the care of monitoring, organising supplies or checking food compliance does not fall to just one of you, as this can create resentment and also burnout.
- Avoid helicopter parenting Being over-controlling with your kid can add to their anxiety and create family tension. So make a pact with your partner that each of you can step in, when necessary, to prevent the
other hovering. This means your child won’t be burdened with your worries as well as their own.
PASSING THE BATON
As your child gains confidence and maturity, encourage them to take on responsibility for the management of their condition. “When you adopt a can-do attitude by involving your child in managing their diabetes, you send
a helpful message to them that they can cope,” says diabetes educator Sue Leahy. Start with small tasks to give your child a sense of control without overwhelming them. “Obviously, you will have to tactfully second-check some of their self-management to make sure they are on track,” advises Sue.
Encourage young children to:
- Check their blood glucose before and after a meal and decide where to do that – even if just once a day.
- Turn on their blood glucose meter or read the results aloud to you.
- Press the plunger on their insulin syringe or delivery button on their pump.
- Choose the finger for testing or the injection site (give two options to avoid stalling).
Encourage teenagers to:
- Pick healthy recipes to cook with you.
- Make their own appointments to see their specialist to fit in with their study and sport schedule.
- Pack their lunch after calculating the carb content.
- Select good mobile phone apps for diabetes to help them calculate carbs or how much insulin they need, or log their blood glucose readings.
KEEPING THEM SAFE AWAY FROM HOME
Confidence encourages independence, but your child must feel secure to spread their wings. This means knowing there are safety nets in place if things go wrong when you aren’t there to look after their needs. As well as providing them with an identity bracelet indicating their condition, you need to make sure there are care strategies in place when they’re away from home.
- Form a relationship with the principal, their teachers, sports instructors and the front-office staff to make sure they understand the basics and know exactly what to do in case of an emergency.
- Provide the school with a problem-solving action plan that includes, for instance, coping with hypos or insulin pump malfunctions and general illness, for example, if your child is in the sick bay with a tummy bug.
- Get your child and the school to nominate two or three buddies who know what to do in case of an emergency – they can then help out in the playground, on the bus or on the walk home.
- Write specific action plans for special excursions such as the athletics or swimming carnival and school camp. Go over this at a meeting with the principal and the teachers who will be on the excursion.
In the community:
Make sure key people in your child’s life – relatives, the parents of their closest friends, their babysitter – all have a clear understanding of their diabetic needs. Provide them with a checklist/management strategy so they are well prepared for sleepovers, play dates, birthday parties and other such occasions.
By Stephanie Osfield