The diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in a child can turn a parent’s world inside-out. Immediately following the diagnosis there is much to learn: how to do blood checks, insulin injections, measure food and a host of other tasks related to diabetes care. The goal in learning all of this is to meet your child’s ongoing health needs and eventually teach him or her how to manage their own diabetes. But we often overlook the most powerful teaching tool available: our example.
When we model the lifestyle attitudes and behaviors we are trying to teach, our child gets a congruent message: follow my example in word and deed. In contrast, if we tell our child to do things one way and live contrary to that instruction they are likely to follow our behavior more than our words.
Here are five ways you can model core attitudes and lifestyle habits for your child that are in line with good diabetes management principles.
Develop a healthy relationship with food
In a fast-paced world, we often treat food as merely fueling our body. That mentality usually leads to eating lots of junk that lacks nutrition but is high on taste (sweet, salty or fat-laden foods). Most people who eat this way, including many with diabetes, are not mindful of what they are putting in their bodies or how it might be affecting their blood sugar.
A healthy relationship with food sees eating as nourishment not fueling. For nourishment to occur you have to consciously choose healthy, nutritious options and make these a regular part of your family life. You can model a healthy relationship with food for your child by:
- buying, preparing and eating nutritious foods on a consistent basis
- eating modest portions and balancing the various food groups for variety
- counting carbohydrates for your food servings and encourage each member of the family to do the same
- encouraging each child to assist in meal preparation once a week to help them engage with the food they eat instead of just consuming it.
Live an active lifestyle
If you are like most parents, you want your child to be active because it is healthy for them. It also is a great and natural way to help lower blood glucose. But kids today are less active than they used to be. They tend to gravitate to sedentary activities that revolve around technology, such as playing video games, surfing the internet and tuning in to television. Being active is often not in their routine.
Rather than tell your child to go out and play, suggest an activity you will do with them, such as bike riding, basketball, tennis, swimming or a hike. Sure, it requires you to take time away from other things. But not only will you be modeling the lifestyle you want for your child, you will be sharing an activity that will help you stay connected to your child.
Practice balanced self-care
You want your child to understand that to reduce the risk of health complications from diabetes he or she is going to have to take their self-care seriously. That is a hard message to sell, especially to older children and teens who think they are invincible. But the message is most likely to be noticed if you are practicing your own self-care on a regular basis. For example, do you get enough sleep and take periodic times of rest when needed or are you in perpetual motion and frequently tired? Do you always seem stressed or do you make deliberate efforts to manage the stressors in your life? Your child is learning how to practice self-care by watching you. When you model good self-care, you have a stronger base from which to help your child do the same.
Be open to help and support
We live in a culture that is very independent-minded. We like to be self-sufficient and not have to depend upon others. There are times when that type of self-determination is good. But diabetes is a condition that needs a team approach; where several people work together to support each other, problem-solve and make decisions.
Show your child that it is okay to ask for help, whether that be from the neighbor who is trained to test your child’s blood sugar to calling on the doctor to help solve a diabetes-related problem. Your child needs to know that they cannot manage diabetes alone; they need other people to know about their condition. They need to realize there is no shame in asking for help, admitting they don’t know how to solve a particular problem and wanting encouragement from others.
Modeling all of the attitudes and behaviors for your child might seem a bit overwhelming at first. But your child benefits by building lifestyle habits that will serve him or her the rest of their lives. You also benefit by being a healthier person and knowing that you are doing all that you can to give your child with diabetes the best start in life possible.