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How Diabetes Affects Siblings

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Updated January 28, 2012

How Diabetes Affects Siblings

Siblings can adjust to diabetes in their home if parents create a supportive environment that addresses the needs of all the children, not just the one with diabetes.

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Diabetes requires adjustments for all members of the family:

When a child is diagnosed with diabetes it undoubtedly will affect the entire family. Much attention is usually given to the child with type 1 to ensure proper diabetes management. But less attention is often given to the siblings of the diagnosed child. It is not uncommon for there to be feelings of neglect, anger and favoritism that arise in siblings.

Here are some tips for parents on how to manage the responses of siblings to the changing family dynamic of living with diabetes.

Explain diabetes in terms they can understand

It is important that you clearly explain what diabetes is and how it works to each of the children in age-appropriate language. This will help calm fears and enable them to normalize the diabetes management process much faster.

For example, one of the big misconceptions that siblings often have after a brother or sister is diagnosed with diabetes is that they will “catch it.” They need to clearly understand that diabetes is not contagious and that close contact with their sibling is not dangerous. In fact, you can even emphasize that when the diabetes tasks are completed, it might be easy to forget that their sibling even has diabetes.

Look for opportunities to probe the feelings of your children

Initially, siblings adjust to diabetes with some intrigue, wanting to understand what it is about. But within a few weeks most siblings would like life to go back to “normal” before the diabetes came to live in the home. This causes a wide range of feelings in kids. The goal is to listen for these emotions and coax them out when appropriate.

For example, suppose your non-diabetic child says he also wants to have diabetes so he can spend more time with Mom and Dad. This type of comment is full of emotion. Rather than correcting your child and instructing them about the difficulties of having diabetes, focus in on helping them talk about their feelings. You might say, “Does it seem that your brother gets more attention from Mom and Dad because of his diabetes?” An inquisitive response that attends to the emotion your child is feeling sends the message that you want them to tell you more; you want them to express their feelings and you are willing to listen.

Make a point to talk about a wide variety of topics with children

Immediately after the diagnosis it is easy for diabetes-related conversation to dominate the household interaction. While this is understandable, make an effort to broaden out the topics to include areas of interest that pertain to all members of the family. This will not only help siblings to feel their lives are important but will also help the child with diabetes to see that there is more to life than diabetes.

Limit the amount of responsibility you give regarding diabetes tasks

While it is fine to ask for sibling help now and then with diabetes-related tasks, limit the responsibilities. For example, it is okay to ask an older sibling to periodically check the younger sibling’s blood sugar, but be cautious about making this type of responsibility a routine task. Diabetes is a difficult condition to manage and can be stressful, even for teens.

Be deliberate about nurturing each child’s needs

In reality, you may end up spending more time and energy addressing the needs of your child with diabetes than the others. But this doesn’t mean you can’t make adequate time for the other children as well. Show interest in their activities and challenges. Affirm their skills, abilities and efforts. Each child will have their own unique relationship with you. Nurture it by giving them one-on-one time where there is lots of conversation and fun. This is one sure way to avoid the problem of favoritism for the child with diabetes.

Source

American Diabetes Association. "Diabetes Affects Siblings Too.”

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