Q: Our 5-year-old's kindergarten teacher surprised the class with homemade applesauce and ice cream as part of an "autumn" unit. Instead of partaking with the other kids, our son was sent to the nurse's office to wait until his classmates were done eating. The teacher sent me an email explaining that she excused him before telling the class about the treat and that her intention was to keep him healthy. How do I respond to this? My son's feelings are crushed, and I'm upset, too -- I think we could have figured out a way for this to work.
A: It can be very upsetting when something like this happens, especially when your child is hurt as a result. Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes is complicated and many people just don't understand it. As someone with type 1 myself, I often come across situations in which people are trying to be helpful, but because their lack of knowledge about diabetes gets in the way, the result is quite the opposite. It seems like this could be what your son encountered with his teacher. You have every right to feel upset, but to resolve the incident -- and ensure that nothing like this happens again -- think about using what just happened as a "teachable moment."
First, follow up with your child's teacher to find out more about her own history with type 1. Has she ever had a student with diabetes before? Does she personally know anyone with type 1? Even if the school has an experienced school nurse on hand for managing your child's blood sugar checks and insulin during the school day, if the teacher is new to type 1, she may be feeling very uncertain about the dos and don'ts of diabetes.
Next, make an appointment to go back over the basics of type 1 care. Does she recognize the symptoms of high or low blood sugar? Does she know how to respond? What questions does she have for you? Does she plan on serving food as part of other lessons? Talk about strategies for handling this and agree on a plan for all future snacks that doesn't leave your child out. Establishing an open dialogue is a key part of preventing these types of incidents. Make sure she knows that she can always call you with a question or concern.
Chances are if your child's teacher is not very knowledgeable about diabetes, the entire class could benefit from a short lesson about type 1. Would the teacher allow you to come into the classroom to lead a short discussion? Parents often aren't sure what to say in front of the class about diabetes, especially to younger kids, which is why I often recommend simply reading children a book about type 1 and then taking questions -- your diabetes educator will likely have some suggestions. (Find more ideas for a classroom visit here.) If your child's teacher is planning a health unit this year, come back and read to the kids again -- and bring your own healthy snack for everyone to enjoy!
--Jeanne Buchanan, R.N., C.D.E., is a pediatric diabetes educator at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.
How Other Parents Deal
"When our son was in elementary school, we bought some children's books on type 1 diabetes and donated them to the school library. We read them in his classes over the years, and it was always fun to look at the checkout card and see how many others signed out the books for school projects or simply to read. What an easy way to spread knowledge!"
--Jennifer, mom of Evan
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.