Q: Our 11-year-old's language arts teacher let me know that he wrote an essay about how he hates having type 1 diabetes and how much of a burden it is on our family. How should I address this?
A: Have you read the essay? Before having any conversation with your son about this, get a copy of the essay from his teacher and really digest what your son is trying to communicate and why he might have chosen to write these words. Have there been any recent incidents that you can think of that would have your son feeling down about his diabetes? Have you noticed any change in his behavior or attitude lately? What about your own attitude toward your son's type 1?
When you're ready to discuss the essay, it's absolutely necessary that you let your son know that you love him, and that his diabetes is not a burden on the others in the family. You should delicately walk the line of sympathizing with his feelings, but also letting him know that type 1 diabetes is manageable and won't limit his future.
What's going on beneath the surface? It could be that, at age 11, your son is starting to feel different because of his type 1, especially as things like hanging around the mall for hours with friends or playing on a team sport (which may require more attention to blood sugar management) become more common. Without him having to ask, make sure he understands that you're there to help him stay healthy so he can enjoy spending time with friends, being active, and whatever other new interests come up as he grows older. Whatever is necessary to make this happen, do your best to let him be a normal 11-year-old kid.
This may also mean checking in with yourself to see if you're sending your son any unintentional messages about type 1. Do you cry about diabetes in front of him? What kind of language do you routinely use to discuss diabetes? Do you call it a "horrible injustice," do you blame yourself for him having diabetes, or do you talk to him about a cure, for example? This kind of language can impede him from seeing any hope or potential in living with diabetes.
Going forward, strive to make your language when discussing diabetes positive, optimistic, and hopeful, and focused on living a full, happy, healthy life with diabetes. If you don't know how to do this on your own, discuss it with your son's endocrinologist, or make an appointment with the social worker or family therapist on your diabetes team.
--Jason Rosenbury, L.C.S.W., works with patients with diabetes at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.
How Other Parents Deal
"Our son was hesitant about trying out for basketball because, as I found out, he was worried his type 1 diabetes would somehow bring the team down. We had the coach talk to him, and he ended up joining. He is now starting center!"
--Jennifer, mom of Evan
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