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Family Transitions to Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Learning to adjust family patterns

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Updated September 30, 2011

Family Transitions to Living with Type 1 Diabetes

Family transitions to living with type 1 need to be as normal as possible.

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When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, it is not just the child who has to adjust to living with diabetes but the entire family. The transition to a lifestyle of being attentive to and managing blood sugar can be especially challenging for many families. But, with mutual cooperation and open communication, it is possible to make this transition in a way that is healthy for all members of the family. But, healthy transitions to living with a chronic condition don’t happen automatically. It takes some deliberate decision making on the part of parents to facilitate these changes. Here are four suggestions of how to navigate these transitions well.

Encourage open and honest communication among family members

Immediately following the diagnosis of type 1, there are many questions that need to be addressed, especially if the child with diabetes has siblings. Talk openly about diabetes in your home so that your child with type 1 doesn’t feel that his or her condition is a secret or something to be ashamed of. The more open you are about acknowledging the presence of diabetes and invite discussion and questions, the more you normalize the presence of diabetes in your family. You want your home to be a place where your child with type 1 feels the same as their siblings without diabetes.

Adjust important lifestyle habits to accommodation diabetes management

This is often the biggest obstacle for families to hurdle. It doesn’t mean that every family activity revolves around the needs of the child with diabetes. But it does mean that your child has a much better chance of agreeing to the diabetes management routine if you work with some of their more important needs. For example, serve meals that everyone can eat, including desserts. People with diabetes can eat what they want but in limited quantities to better manage their blood sugar. So, instead of serving a rich, sugar-laden dessert that might cause a spike in your child’s blood sugar, choose an option with a lower glycemic rating. Research has repeatedly shown that families willing to make these types of changes without resentment toward the person with type 1 are closer in their relationships and experience better glucose control with diabetes.

Create a partnership in diabetes management

Diabetes is a challenging condition to manage and can put enormous strain on a marriage, especially if only one parent is bearing the stress that can often accompany the diabetes management routine. Too often the mother is the sole caregiver for diabetes problem-solving and crisis management. Resentment can easily creep in when only one parent is taking responsibility for managing a child’s diabetes. It is critical in a two-parent home that the father also be an active participant in learning about and caring for his child’s needs.

In single parent homes, it is important that the parent develop at least one other person who can be trained to take over the diabetes management routine periodically. This could be a family member, neighbor, or older sibling. Just knowing that there is at least one other person you can rely on to help when needed is comforting and makes the burden less stressful.

Be mindful about the amount of attention given to each child

It’s easy for parents to unconsciously give their child with diabetes a much greater amount of their time and attention in comparison to the other children in the family. Children are usually pretty resilient for short periods of time, especially in the days following diagnosis. But over time they can definitely sense that their brother or sister with diabetes may be getting more of mom or dad’s attention than they are. Try to give each child some time of their own with you. A monthly date with each child for an hour or two is a good way to fill their need for that special time.
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