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Helping Your Child Adjust to Diabetes

When your child has diabetes, there’s a lot to talk about — especially at first.

All Feelings Are OK

It’s normal for someone who learns they have diabetes to have lots of different feelings. It’s not unusual that a new diagnosis of type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes can bring on feelings of shock, sadness, or anger.

Some kids are eager to express their feelings, while others may need encouragement to share what’s on their mind. Be available when your child wants to talk. Listen carefully to what they say. Reassure them that their feelings are OK.

You may want to remind yourself and your child that a diabetes diagnosis is no one’s fault — there’s nothing you or your child did to cause it. And keep in mind that because of new treatments and technologies, kids with diabetes today can learn to manage their condition while doing all the things other kids do. If you need help talking with your child about diabetes, reach out to the care team.

Give Your Child Support

Your child looks to you for care, comfort, and advice. They count on you to support them physically (like helping them through an insulin shot) and emotionally (like talking about the feelings that come with having a new and lasting condition). To show your interest and support, start having open conversations soon after your child’s diagnosis. You’ll set a strong foundation for communicating about any challenges that could happen in the future.

Here are some ways you can talk about these issues:

  • Talk about daily care. If your child is upset about needing an insulin shot, you may say, “I know it’s scary — you’re so brave.”
  • Talk about emotions. You can ask, “What has it been like for you to have diabetes so far?” or “Is there anything you feel worried about?”

Your whole family can support your child too. When possible, include any siblings in meal planning and physical activities. A “team” approach will help the family make healthy choices together, and your child with diabetes won’t feel singled out.

Finally, help your child re-engage in all the activities they were doing before the diagnosis. This will help you both learn how to manage diabetes in different situations. It will also help your child learn that they can still do all their favorite things.

Tips to Help Your Child Adjust

Kids have different needs as they grow and change. Slowly, over time, you can help your child build the skills they’ll need to someday manage diabetes on their own. As you talk about diabetes, be honest and ready for questions.

Your words and actions matter. Use words that are right for your child’s age or developmental stage:

  • For infants and toddlers: Comfort your child with a gentle tone and calming words while you give shots or fingersticks. Soon these activities will become part of your child's daily routine, like diaper changes or getting ready for a nap.
  • For preschoolers: Use simple words when explaining the daily care tasks you do, like giving a shot. When you can, give your child a sense of control. For example, let them choose where to get their insulin injection, which finger to use for a fingerstick, or where they want their continuous glucose monitor placed. Kids can learn a lot by watching their parents do daily tasks and helping with different parts of their own care. Participating now often makes it easier for kids to adjust to managing their care later on.
  • For kids in grade school through middle school: Encourage your child to take on more of their own diabetes care with your support and supervision. Gradual moves are key. Start with one task, and slowly give your child more responsibility. Your diabetes health care team can also guide you on which tasks are appropriate for your child’s age.
  • For teens: Ask your teen what it’s like to have diabetes at school and around friends. Listen without judgment. At this age it’s important to fit in with peers, and some teens experiment with substances that could affect blood sugars. So this is a good time to talk about alcohol and drugs. Another topic to discuss is your level of involvement in your teen’s diabetes care. Talk about how you can keep in touch with each other so you’re both satisfied. This may mean finding the right balance between your teen’s wish for independence and their willingness to let you provide guidance and support.

When questions come up, use the diabetes care team as a resource for support. They’re always ready to help.

Reviewed by: Joslyn Kenowitz, PhD
Date Reviewed: 22-07-2022

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