Q: Evidently, one of our daughter's classmates let the school nurse know that kids are telling other kids not to play with our daughter because they'll catch diabetes. The nurse suggested a class "teach in" about type 1, but we just did that. To us, this seems more like a discipline issue than anything else. How should we resolve this?
A: It's unfortunate, but bullying around health issues is an all-too-common problem we hear about in our work with children and families affected by type 1 diabetes. And there's no excuse for it! If you haven't done so already, make an appointment with your child's teacher to discuss the situation, preferably with the principal or another administrator on hand to answer questions. Because most schools typically have some kind of "no bullying" or anti-harassment policy in place to deal with these types of student discipline and safety issues, you should leave this meeting knowing exactly how the teacher and school will handle the situation.
As for the nurse's suggestion that another teach-in is needed, you might not want to be so quick to dismiss the idea. As I often tell parents, more education about type 1 can never be a bad thing. And in the case of your child's class, revisiting the topic of diabetes could be one way to truly get at the root of where some of the bullying behavior is coming from.
This is in no way meant to explain away or "okay" what happened, but in many cases, bullies, deep down inside, are petrified to learn that a classmate has something wrong with their health, especially something called DIE-abetes. It's normal at first for friends (and siblings) to wonder if they can catch diabetes, since most of what children know about illness comes from catching colds or coming down with stomach bugs. Other classmates may even feel jealousy over the fact that your daughter gets to leave the classroom to go to the nurse's office. Bringing the school nurse back now to specifically address these issues in a kid-friendly way is a chance to once and for all end the confusion about what type 1 is and isn't -- and knock the wind right out of another would-be bully's sails.
Last but not least, have you checked in with your daughter about this incident? Gently discuss with her why it's so important to tell you if someone is doing or saying something hurtful. Many times children with type 1 don't want to burden their parents with things like this, so make sure she gets the message from you that, no matter what the teasing is about, it's just part of your job to help her handle it.
--Jennifer Rein, L.I.C.S.W., is a licensed independent clinical social worker at the Diabetes Program at Children's Hospital Boston in Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.