“While advances have helped lessen the burden of everyday living for children with diabetes and reduced their risk of long-term complications, the condition still has an impact on a child’s behaviour, self-esteem, sibling and peer relationships and family dynamics,” says Rosemary Flynn, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE).
Flynn says that an understanding of the needs and emotions of children at various stages of development can help to better identify and understand a child’s specific needs and emotions at each age.
How well a child’s body copes with diabetes is strongly linked to how the child thinks and feels and relates to others. Each of these dimensions will have an impact on how the child behaves.
Flynn says although changing emotions are a normal phenomenon for anyone, in children with diabetes they have the potential to make blood glucose levels unstable. The body reacts to emotional trauma or even emotional excitement by triggering chemical reactions, which make blood glucose levels rise. “When working with a child with diabetes, it is important to try to understand the child holistically to achieve and maintain optimum health. Focusing only on the physical aspects of diabetes will never be sufficient to ensure a well-balanced and healthy child who is at peace with managing her diabetes”.
Flynn offers some crucial insights for parents raising a child with diabetes:
Initiative and self-control
Initiative and self-control develop progressively with age and maturity and are often influenced by your parenting style. Both initiative, being able to make the right decision as needed, and self-control, being able to follow the regimen of managing diabetes, will be needed to enable the child to negotiate his or her diabetes.
Developing a conscience
So much of the successful management of diabetes depends on a well-integrated conscience. Every day of their lives, children with diabetes face the temptation to eat too much, to avoid eating, to eat the wrong foods, to avoid injections or finger pricks, to have extra insulin, to avoid exercise, to over-exercise, to falsify blood glucose results and so on.
For children to take responsibility for their own health, and make the right choices, depends largely on values such as honesty, success, achievement, self-reliance and being cooperative. Having a well-integrated conscience is the key to developing these values.
Parenting that is flexible, but firm, works well in all families. Power and responsibility is gradually given to the children as they grow and develop. Children react better when they have clear limits, expectations and rules that adapt as they move into their teenage years. Relationships are always respectful and kind and the family is able to solve problems together. Feelings are valued and the connection between parents and children is of utmost importance. Like sailing a boat, your family must roll with the wind and weather the storms and make continuous adjustments as you try to keep the boat balanced. If you can get this right, you will be a truly flexible family.
While siblings can play a significant role in the process of managing diabetes, they can also take a great deal of strain because of the condition. It’s important to spend quality time with all your children without jeopardising the health of the child with diabetes.
Research on children with diabetes has found that if too much anxiety is present, such children cope either by avoiding management altogether to reduce their anxiety, or else by becoming so frenetic in their approach to self-management that their stress levels become intolerable. In either case, control of diabetes is lost. Coping with diabetes is always a family affair. Parents can play a substantial role in how much anxiety is experienced by the child with diabetes whether it be specific fears related to diabetes or fears that arise in their life context. All fears have an impact on how well the child will cope with having diabetes.
Another deterrent to good management is anger. Angry children may sabotage their diabetes management. Even those children who have accepted their diabetes and usually manage well, sometimes become angry because of the impact diabetes has on their lifestyle. It is important to acknowledge this anger and work with the child to enable them to reduce their anger. “Anger gives rise to a chemical response in the body and unfortunately for the child with diabetes, this response means that the child develops high blood sugar,” she says.
Depression takes away any motivation to succeed, so handling depression and suicidal feelings is a necessity for children with diabetes. Three ways to help children become more resistant to depression includes building their self-esteem, encouraging physical activity and finding a support group. Support groups and camps for children with diabetes provide a sense of community, particularly when they can see that other children handle their diabetes well.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.