Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in childhood, affecting one in every 400 - 600 children. Managing diabetes requires a substantial amount of mental and physical effort and has to be attended to several times a day. The stress that this can cause is significant – for both parents and their children.
Common Feelings Among Children with Diabetes
The remarkable thing I have seen over and over again is that these children and their families are incredibly resilient and work very hard to manage their illness and continue to have normal, healthy, and happy lives. However, diabetes can have a significant impact on these youngsters, including aspects of their well-being that aren’t easily seen or measured. For example, diabetes can affect children’s self-esteem, or their sense of their own worth.
Feeling Different Because of Diabetes
Despite families’ best efforts, diabetes can feel very defining to kids. Often, teachers and peers may treat them as different, even if well-meaning. For example, a teacher may set aside a different snack for a diabetic child than the rest of the class. Rightfully concerned parents often ask, “Did you check your blood sugar?” before asking how their child’s day went.
Sleepovers, school trips, and birthday parties all require more thought and parental involvement for children with diabetes than for their peers. Therefore, children may begin to feel defined by their illness and this can cause some children to feel bad about themselves.
Feelings of Failure to Control Blood Sugar
Also, it is important to understand that diabetes is very difficult to manage. It can be hard to achieve the target blood sugar levels and a lot of factors outside a child and family’s control can make this more difficult. Children who are struggling to manage their diabetes might feel a profound sense of failure, which is often accompanied by concern and frustration by their families and medical teams.
What Can Parents Do to Help?
All of these factors can contribute to low self-esteem, which is in turn linked with other difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and even more difficulty controlling diabetes. Parents should try to keep the diabetes from defining the child, while still being careful to meet their healthcare needs. Two easy ways to do this include:
- Serve a snack that is low in carbohydrates and sugar to all of the children in a group instead of serving a “special” snack to a diabetic child.
- Don’t ask a child, “Are you sure you should have that?” Children with diabetes can eat the same foods as other kids with proper planning.
Children’s Comprehensive Approach to Treating Diabetes
Your child's visit doesn't end with the endocrinologist's diagnosis and recommendation. The Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National focuses on education and teaching patients and families how to cope with all aspects of diabetes and its management.
Program participants have access to a multidisciplinary team of pediatric physicians, certified diabetes educators (CDE), registered nurses, dietitians, a psychologist, and a dedicated social worker.
If you would like to receive occasional information on diabetes management, sign up for our Diabetes Team E-Newsletter.