Approximately 186,000 American citizens under the age of 20 have diabetes. Most children suffer from Type 1 Diabetes, but society has seen a recent marked increase in Type 2 Diabetes as a direct result of the recent childhood obesity pandemic. The medical community often focuses exclusively on the physical care of diabetic children, but it is also important to address the psychological aspects of growing up with a challenging, sometimes scary, ailment.
The good news is that your diabetic child can and should lead a very normal, happy life. That said, there are some psychological and emotional challenges they may encounter along their journey. When first diagnosed many young children have a difficult time mentally processing the magnitude of diabetes. Some common emotional reactions are shame, guilt and an acute fear of dying. In some cases, they may feel as though they are being punished. Children often struggle with the fact that their parents are not all-powerful. They might blame their parents for the diabetes and may even believe that their parents could make the diabetes go away but choose not to.
It is important to address these feeling head on. Ignoring them may have lifelong consequences for your child. Your goal is to quell these fears and promote a healthy sense of security and self-esteem in your child. This will establish the foundation for lifelong physical and mental and health.
- Assure your child that they are not being punished; you love them unconditionally and if you knew of any way to cure them of diabetes, you would do everything in your power to do so.
- Acknowledge that it is unfair that they have diabetes; but that it is a manageable condition and that they will lead a very normal, happy, healthy life.
- Keep things in perspective. Communicate that your child has diabetes but they are not defined by diabetes. They are so much more than just their medical condition.
- Promote a sense of self care. Always supervise your child’s health, but also encourage and foster independence. Your child will need to practice responsible self-care in the future… now is the time to develop that sense of competence.
- It will be difficult because it is hard to see your child suffer, but you too will also need to practice restraint. Despite good intentions, overprotective parents undermine a child’s self-esteem and foster a self-image of sickliness.
There are a number of excellent resources available to help parents care for their diabetic child. Talk to your doctor about books and website that they would recommend. Consider summer camps that specialize in diabetic children. Look for mental health specialists who understand childhood diabetes. While formal therapy may not always be necessary, having these specialists as advisers can be a tremendous help during stressful times.
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