Q: Our 12-year-old daughter has had diabetes for six years and is usually fine about it. However, she recently "snapped" and had a screaming fit about how she's fed up with diabetes, how unhappy she is with her life and how there will never be a cure. Our endocrinologist warned us that this type of thing might happen, especially when puberty hits. I'm still in shock and don't quite know how to respond. I hate that my normally sunny, happy girl is so miserable.
A: The first thing I usually say to parents who share with me situations similar to the one you describe is…great! As hard as it is for you to hear this from your daughter and see her in so much pain, it's much worse for a child with type 1 to keep these kinds of negative emotions bottled up.
When feelings are so raw, it's often best for a parent to simply affirm the child's emotions. In the heat of the moment, things like, "Let it all out," "I'm here to listen," and "I'm here to help," can be effective statements on your part.
As for what led up to this outburst, let's face it, being an adolescent with diabetes isn't fair. At 12 years old, an age when kids naturally start spending less time with parents and more time going out with their friends, having diabetes can really cramp a kid's style. It's also an age when children with type 1 typically begin taking on more responsibility for their blood sugar management. How autonomous is your daughter in her care -- does she know how to count carbs and check her blood sugar? On the flip side, some adolescents may act out when they're overwhelmed or not quite ready to take on these tasks. Your diabetes educator is a great resource to help you strike a balance.
You mention that your daughter is normally sunny and happy -- she probably still is! So many kids have outbursts like this and a few hours later, remarkably, they're completely back to normal. Remember, your daughter can't take a vacation from diabetes, but she can blow off a little steam. This is why my message to parents is often that there is nothing to do -- no action step -- to help your child feel better. Validate her feelings, let her know you're there to help... and then let her take the lead.
If the outbursts continue or are accompanied by withdrawal from friends or not taking part in her usual activities, you might want to get in touch with the family therapist or social worker with your care team for specific advice.
--Jennifer Rein, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., is a social worker and type 1 diabetes care team member at Children's Hospital Boston.
How Other Parents Deal
"Our daughter had major type 1 burnout when she was 13. We had to stay right on top of her about checking her blood sugar, because otherwise she was at the point of not caring. It was so tough to see her going through this. Now, I can't believe that my super-confident 17-year-old is the same person. My advice for other parents? Hang tight... this too shall pass!"
--Jennifer, mom of Sabrina
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