Q: Everyone says to “see the child first, then the diabetes,” but how do I put this into practice in everyday life, especially since type 1 diabetes is all that I think about since our son’s diagnosis?
A: At a diabetes conference I attended not too long ago, one of the speakers shared his experience of having type 1 as a young person. As he talked about what had frustrated him the most about diabetes, he said that whenever he would come home from school in a bad mood, instead of asking him what was wrong or what had happened that day, his parents’ first question to him was always, “What’s your blood sugar?”
Keeping your child’s diabetes in perspective during the first year after diagnosis can be difficult, especially with so much to learn and so many emotions to process. What’s the easiest way, on your end, to make sure your child doesn’t end up feeling like just a blood sugar number? Practice. Take time to greet him with “good morning” when he first wakes up before asking “have you checked yet?” When your child comes home from school, remind yourself to first say “how was your day?” before anything else. And if he flings his backpack across the room when he walks in the door, try asking “did something bug you today?” rather than “what’s your blood sugar?” Keep reminding yourself to do these things until they become habit. If you need help, just think, how would you greet your child in those first few moments if he didn’t have diabetes?
The same goes for other interactions you have with your child. As you both adjust to the diagnosis, chances are you’ve had plenty of conversations with your son about diabetes. But when is the last time you talked about his favorite sports team or favorite subject in school or what he wants to do this weekend? Of course, talking with your child about his type 1 is necessary. But you can find ways to balance this out with conversations that have nothing to do with diabetes.
It’s also helpful if parents can model this behavior in their own conversations. Do you and your spouse only talk about your son in the context of his diabetes? Try working in conversations where you put type 1 aside to talk about other aspects of your child’s life. For starters, what did you talk about before your child’s diagnosis? If your partner is likewise struggling with how to keep your son’s diabetes in perspective, these conversations can help you both to more deeply internalize this “child first” approach.
Every family is different as they adjust to life with type 1. As time goes by, however, there should be a sense that life has returned to normal. If you find yourself worrying too much about diabetes, and especially if more than a year has passed since your child’s diagnosis, don’t hesitate in reaching out to your child’s care team for help in gaining a fresh perspective.
--Shirley Goodman, R.N., C.D.E., is a staff diabetes educator in the pediatric endocrinology department at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
How Other Parents Deal
“About a month after my son was diagnosed, we went to the aquarium. I remember this day so clearly, because as we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the sharks, I forgot, just for a minute, about diabetes. I know he felt the same way. We can’t go to the aquarium every day, but engaging with him and talking to him about his interests (he is obsessed with sharks) lets him know that we value him and aren’t just fixated on testing his blood sugar.”
-- Shawna, mom of 7-year-old Jack
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