How to help your child cope with type 1 diabetes
Living with type 1 diabetes isn't easy -- for you or for your child. Good diabetes management requires a lot of time and effort, especially in the beginning.
Your child's emotions
Diabetes can affect your child's emotions both directly and indirectly. Poorly controlled blood sugar can directly affect his or her emotions by causing behavior changes, such as irritability. And, if that happens at a birthday party because your child forgot to take insulin before having a piece of cake, he or she could end up fighting with friends.
Another way diabetes can take a toll on your child's emotions is by making him or her feel different from other kids. Most of the time, children don't want to be different, and having to draw blood and give themselves shots definitely sets kids with diabetes apart from their peers. Getting your child together with other children who have diabetes may help make your child feel less alone.
Mental health and substance abuse
People with diabetes have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, which may be why many diabetes specialists regularly include a social worker or psychologist as part of their diabetes care team.
Teenagers, in particular, may have a particularly hard time dealing with diabetes. A child who has been very good about sticking to his or her diabetes regimen may rebel in the teen years by ignoring his or her diabetes care. Teens may also have a harder time telling friends or boyfriends or girlfriends that they have diabetes because they want to fit in. They may also experiment with drugs or alcohol, behaviors that can be even more dangerous for someone with diabetes. Eating disorders and forgoing insulin to lose weight are other problems that can occur more often in the teen years.
Talk to your teen, or ask your teen's doctor to talk to your teen, about the effects of drugs and alcohol on someone with diabetes. If you notice that your child or adolescent is persistently sad or pessimistic, or if you notice dramatic changes in his or her sleeping habits, friends or school performance, talk to your doctor or a therapist to have your teen assessed for depression. Additionally, let your child's doctor know if you notice that your son or daughter is losing weight or doesn't seem to be eating well.
Talking to a counselor or therapist may help your child or you to cope with the dramatic lifestyle changes that come with a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Your child may find encouragement and understanding in a type 1 diabetes support group for children. Support groups for parents also are available. Although support groups aren't for everyone, they can be good sources of information. Group members often know about the latest treatments and tend to share their own experiences or helpful information, such as where to find carbohydrate counts for your child's favorite takeout restaurant. If you're interested, your doctor may be able to recommend a group in your area.
Or, you can visit the websites of the American Diabetes Association, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or Children with Diabetes to find support and regional activities for people with type 1 diabetes and their families. The American Diabetes Association also offers diabetes camp programs that provide children and teens with diabetes education and support. And, these groups offer online information and forums for children and teens.
Putting information in context
Because complications from poorly controlled diabetes can be so frightening, it's important to remember that many studies -- and therefore, a lot of literature you may be reading -- were completed before many advances in diabetes care occurred. And that means many of those scary statistics don't necessarily apply to your child. If you and your child work with your child's doctor and do your best to control blood sugar levels, your child with likely live a long and normal life.