Helping Teens Adapt to Diabetes

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Re-frame the diagnosis

Children’s attitudes toward diabetes are influenced by the reactions of the people around them. Healthcare professionals and parents have the power to present diabetes in a positive way to help encourage acceptance and confidence.

“When a child or teen observes the people in their lives treating diabetes and treatment as if it’s a curse, a constant source of anxiety, or a reflection of something the child did ‘wrong’, the child/teen will likely struggle with it too,” says Dr. Commissariat. “Validating the constant difficulties with diabetes, praising the hard work one puts in, and removing judgment about good and bad numbers can make diabetes a little bit easier to accept.”

A recent study conducted by Dr. Commissariat and colleagues at Joslin looked at the emotional impact of type 1 diabetes in children under age eight on both parents and children. After interviewing the mothers of the children, one thing was clear: parents also struggled with their children’s diagnosis. They got frustrated discussing blood sugar numbers, struggled to explain to their children why the child had to do diabetes care tasks, and felt guilty their kids were “different” and not like other kids. (Poster will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Diabetes Association, June 2017.)

“Young children already observe all their parents’ behaviors, and can be really easily influenced by their parent’s reaction to diabetes care. So if mom starts crying every time she tells someone little Johnny has diabetes, it’s going to influence Johnny’s view of diabetes and if or how he accepts it,” says Dr. Commissariat. “Families dealing with diabetes have every right to grieve. But eventually coming to terms with the diagnosis and its daily tasks as just another part of the child’s life may relieve some emotional burden on the family, help model a more positive attitude toward diabetes, and possibly even encourage a better outlook for the child.”

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