Q: In his letter to Santa, our 7-year-old asked for his big brother's diabetes to go away. How do we respond to this?
A: Your son is a great little guy to make such a generous wish for his big brother. With lots of love and gentleness, the best thing you can do right now might be to simply let him know that we all wish for a cure for type 1 diabetes. Maybe, one day, this wish will come true. But for right now, diabetes is here to stay, just like having freckles or brown eyes; it's just one of those things that not even Santa Claus can change.
Unwrapping this a bit, can you identify a reason why his brother's diabetes is so much on your son's mind this year? Was your older child's diagnosis recent? Even for younger kids, it's normal to go through a grieving process when a sibling is diagnosed with a major health issue like type 1. Your younger son could be feeling sad, frightened, uncertain, or angry -- or a confusing mix of all these emotions.
Troubling feelings can be present even if your older child's diagnosis was some time ago. In addition to the joy and excitement of the holidays, the season can also bring with it a lingering sense of loss or the feeling that "things aren't the same."
Whatever the case may be, before the holiday hubbub kicks into high gear, carve out some quiet time to check in and talk. Perhaps he just needs reassurance that his big brother will be okay with his diabetes. Or maybe he needs a reminder that kids with diabetes can grow up to be super star athletes or doctors or lawyers or teachers -- or whatever they want to be! And don't forget to let him know that your older son is incredibly lucky to have such a caring and compassionate little brother.
As a way to keep the focus of your conversation positive, maybe you and your son can think of something special that his big brother would like to get from Santa and include that in his letter? Your 7-year-old definitely made it on the "nice" list this year -- the man in red will want to deliver!
--Beverly S. Adler, Ph.D., C.D.E., is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator in private practice in Baldwin, N.Y.
How Other Parents Deal
"I wasn't prepared for how hard-hit our 4-year-old would be over her big brother's diagnosis. Don't underestimate how tuned in little kids are to what's happening in the family, especially when everyone seems sad or upset. As soon as you can, explain the situation using simple and reassuring words."
--Tamara, mom of Dwight, 6
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.