Children Independently Managing Their Type 1 DiabetesElissa Renouf
Q. My nine-year-old makes me feel guilty about trying to help him control his Type 1, which he was diagnosed with less than two years ago. Any idea how I can make life easier?
A. I know better than anyone that there’s more than one side to diabetes. Among the immediate challenges are the insulin injections. If you thought taking your children to the doctor every few years to get their shots was stressful, you’ll now have to deal with the prospect of needles several times a day, which is especially difficult with a recently diagnosed child.
Kids can find it very hard to accept that needles are a regular and permanent part of their lives. They’ll cry and resist, their tears and anxiety making you feel as if you’re being punished for keeping them healthy – or worse, that you’re responsible for their pain. No loving parent should have to feel this way.
I found that a good way to handle the stress of daily injections was to create a reward chart, which I put up on the kitchen wall so the kids could see it before, during and after every meal (when they needed their insulin). I’d award a star for each injection they had without making a fuss. Three stars equalled a reward such as a milkshake or a snack, or playing a board game after school.
Other incentives, such as cooking their favourite dinner, hiring a DVD or going to play in the park, also work well. For extra motivation, you could set them the goal of reaching a designated number of stars every month. If they reach the target, they earn a bonus reward of, say, a day at a theme park or an afternoon tenpin bowling. The reward chart is a diversionary tactic – you’re turning a painful, ‘negative’ activity into something that’s fun and positive. However, be careful with food rewards – depending on what you give them, it could mean more needles, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise!
Most parents will also have to deal with the emotional side of diabetes. Early on, your child is likely to ask themselves, ‘Why me?’ and will turn to you for answers. Don’t sugarcoat the truth. I explained everything clearly from the very beginning. Children are smarter than you think, and if they suspect you aren’t telling them everything, they will imagine the worst.
Talking to your child as an equal rather than a kid is a good way to help them feel better about themselves and will, hopefully, make managing their diabetes easier. You can’t hide diabetes from your child; the way to go is to just accept it and move forward. Also, be prepared for a period of blaming yourself. After each of my four boys’ diagnoses, I found myself grieving, believing that the future I’d imagined for them was now going to be different. This is completely natural and you do get over it. The most important thing to remember, even when you feel you’re hurting your son or daughter with those needles, is that it’s not your fault. In fact, you’re helping them to learn to live the healthiest life possible, and that’s a precious gift.