People in the Know: Fighting Labels at a New School

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Q: We're moving to a new town, and our 11-year-old daughter (who's had type 1 since she was a toddler) told me that she doesn't want to become known there as "diabetes girl." How do we help her through this adjustment?

A: Moving to a new town is a big deal for kids, and whether or not they have type 1 diabetes, it's completely normal for insecurities and self-doubts to bubble to the surface in some form or another during this time of transition.

Right now, your daughter may simply need reassurance from you that no, she is not "diabetes girl." Take the time to listen to her concerns about being pegged as "the kid with diabetes," and understand why that label bothers her. Once these negative emotions are out in the open, go back and ask her to list all her other interests and talents. What would your daughter rather be known as at her new school? Does she want to be the "excellent goalie" or the "great artist"? Help her embrace those parts of her personality and look for ways she can get involved with some of her interests once you move to your new community.

Also know that when families move or children change schools, it's extremely common for kids with type 1 to feel very shy and uncertain about how to explain diabetes to a new set of classmates. Could this be at the root of what's troubling your daughter? Have a frank discussion with her about why it's important for people to know she has diabetes (in case of an emergency or to help support her emotionally) and reassure her that you will be taking care of a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff with the school nurse, including when and where to test and insulin use during the school day.

To help her prepare for meeting new friends and teachers -- and that moment when she explains to them that she has type 1 -- teach her how to hone her diabetes "elevator pitch." Make sure she includes important aspects of diabetes management (i.e., "I need to test my blood sugar pretty often, and there are times when I may need to take insulin or have a snack."), but also encourage her in those first few conversations with new friends to talk about things that have nothing to do with diabetes. Describing her glucose meter and then sharing her favorite movie helps show her new classmates that yes, she has diabetes, but there's more to her than just type 1. Taking this approach also helps to steer the conversation towards a new topic.

I personally live my life by the mantra "Diabetes doesn't define me, but it helps explain me." That helps me feel comfortable explaining why I might have snacks in my purse and an insulin pump on my hip, but that these things don't give the whole picture of who I am. I'm more than diabetes, and your daughter is, too. Helping her to recognize all the many wonderful things that make her special is something she can carry with her, no matter where she lives.

Kerri Sparling--Kerri Sparling is the creator and author of one of the first and most widely-read diabetes patient blogs. Diagnosed just before she started second grade, she has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986.


 

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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.