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How to Talk with Your Child about Diabetes

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Updated January 28, 2012

How to Talk with Your Child about Diabetes

Listen for emotion in your child's conversation and coax it out to help them make more sense of what they are feeling.

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Ways to discuss diabetes management without conflict:

Talking with your child who has type 1 diabetes about their health, blood testing, eating habits and other tasks involved in diabetes management can be challenging. It may seem like a tug-of-war at times. On the one hand you try to motivate your child to practice good self-care, preserve their health and avoid an unnecessary diabetes-related emergency, such as a severe low blood sugar reaction. On the other hand, your attempts at “reminding” them about checking their blood and counting carbohydrates can easily be interpreted as nagging.

Here are some tips for talking with your child that will enable you to address the diabetes issues that need attention but allow you to do it in a way that keeps your relationship intact.

Choose your words carefully

Try to think about the words you use and choose ones that avoid sounding angry or judgmental. For example, you might instinctively say to your child that his or her glucose numbers have been “bad” of late. Though your child knows what you mean, it is easy for your child to generalize this designation of “bad” as pertaining to them as a person even though you intended it as a descriptor for blood sugar results. Instead of “bad” you could say that glucose numbers have been “high” or “elevated.” The goal here is to choose words that describe behaviors that need to be changed and avoid words that might be interpreted as judgmental or blaming.

Draw your child’s emotions out

It’s not easy living with diabetes, especially when you are a young person. At the same time it’s understandable for parents to focus so much on completing the daily tasks of diabetes management that they forget how their child is actually feeling about living with diabetes. Take time to listen carefully to how your child is coping with the needle pricks, injections, doctor’s visits, peer awareness of their diabetes, etc.

Most kids will need their parents to ask them directly how they are feeling. Look for natural opportunities to follow-up with your child. For example, if they needed a quick snack during a social event because of a low blood sugar, ask them how they felt treating their low blood sugar with friends present.

When your child does express some emotion, try to make your first response one of empathy. For example, your child says, “I hate having diabetes and I’m sick of poking my fingers every day.” You could respond empathically by saying, “I hear how much you dislike living with diabetes. It’s really hard isn’t it? Which parts of diabetes are most difficult for you?” When you combine empathy with soft questions you tell your child that what they are feeling matters to you. As he or she is able to talk about their feelings, they are more likely to cope better. Do more empathy and listening than advice-giving.

Set realistic expectation for your child

If there is anything that is predictable about diabetes management, it is that blood sugar levels are often not predictable. Mistakes will happen. Sometimes your best effort still leaves you bewildered and feeling out of control. Help your child to understand that perfection is not the goal. When you don’t have ideal blood glucose numbers it doesn’t mean failure. It is simply a problem that needs to be solved. Set realistic expectation for your child’s glucose management that allows for mistakes, errors of judgment and flexible problem-solving.

Invite conversation on a regular basis

Regularly communicate to your child that you are open to their suggestions of how they could better manage their diabetes. Better yet, send the message that you have an open-door policy on anything that they want to talk about: friends, school, feelings, problems at home, etc. Building a strong relationship with your child with the ability to discuss lots of topics openly and with honesty will only strengthen your ability to navigate the often difficult challenges of managing diabetes as your child grows older.

Source

American Diabetes Association. "Communicating With Your Child.”

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