Q: On the way to school this morning, my 8-year-old son asked me out of nowhere, "Mom, what does it feel like to not have diabetes?" I couldn't help myself, I started to cry. I finally told him it just feels like when you don't feel low or high... I don't know if that was an okay answer, and I am so upset with myself for crying in front of him. How should I have answered?
A: First of all, your role as a primary caregiver to a child with type 1 diabetes comes with no shortage of responsibility. It's normal to feel emotional when you hear questions like this -- and really, there's no need to beat yourself up for your reaction. This probably won't be the last question you hear on the subject, but rest assured, there are plenty of ways to feel more prepared the next time you hear, "Mommy, can I ask you something?"
At eight years old, children are naturally curious about their world and their place in it, especially when it comes to what makes them different from others in their age group or family. If your son was diagnosed with type 1 at a young age, he might simply be wondering what it physically feels like to not have diabetes. After all, he may have no memory of it being any other way. If you think this was the motivation, the answer you gave was likely the kind of response he was after. On the other hand, when children are diagnosed at an age when they do remember what life was like before having type 1, these kinds of questions may mask frustration or even serve as a way to express mourning or grieving. You may need to ask some follow-up questions to pinpoint what kind of information your son wants.
We know so much more now than we did in previous decades about successfully managing type 1, but it still doesn't change the fact that living with diabetes is not always easy. And this likely means some tough questions for both of you. So, how to make sure you have a decent response at the ready? Your diabetes care team is always there for specific advice for your child, and if you haven't already, get in touch with other parents in the type 1 community -- in person or online -- to share strategies for getting through these unexpected moments. When you have questions about your child's questions, other moms and dads can be a great sounding board.
--Elizabeth Platt is the mom of a 5-year-old with type 1 diabetes and coauthor of a new book for parents of children with diabetes.
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