Diabetes is not an “old persons” disease and childhood diabetes has increased markedly in the past decade. What can you do if your child Is less than seven or eight and you’ve just learned she has diabetes? Your emotions likely range from shock and panic to grief and worry. Will my child have a normal life? Can he go to school? Can I keep working? How will I keep my child safe? Can I manage this?
These are all normal and typical initial reactions. Families often learn their child has diabetes after an initial period of being very sick- tired, excessive wetting, excessive thirst, lethargy, etc; They go to their pediatrician and then find themselves suddenly rushed off to a pediatric emergency room. Their world changes rapidly as their child is admitted and they find themselves shuttled into classes with other stunned parents learning how to dose and administer insulin, how to change their families way of eating, and then sent home with instructions to call the diabetes nurse every day for a month or so to report blood sugar levels and to check their child often during the night for the first few months. No wonder many parents find themselves confused and depressed.
But, it does get better and there are definitely some steps to reduce the stress. What can you do?
1. Take some very deep breaths and remind yourself that it will be ok! Reflect on past experiences where you learned things you didn’t think you could or mastered a stressful time. Remind yourself that even though there may be many things you need to do (like frequent middle of the night checks) many of these tasks will not last forever. Things change as your child matures and ages.
2. Keep asking questions of your medical team, and don’t let yourself be turned away without a clear answer.
3. Your stress level may be very high right now, and so you might not understand everything right away. You will hear terms that are brand new, like “A1c” , “basal rates”, and “carb counting”. Keep asking for explanations. The diabetes nurses are educators and they are used to this. Keep a pad with you at all times in the early months and write down all of your questions and concerns so you are prepared on the phone or at your appointments.
4. Stay connected. Attend whatever classes are offered for families to learn about insulin dosing, nutrition, etc; Diabetes is very unpredictable in young children and things change often. Work on being flexible and keep asking questions until you get what you need.
5. Arrange to have other caregivers attend these classes and trainings as soon as possible- include extended family members, babysitters, even teachers and/or daycare providers. Enlist the help of your husband/wife early on. It takes a team. Don’t try to do it all alone. It’s also good for your child to know there are several capable and loving adults that can help her/him.
6. Get support. Build a sense of community. Check with local hospitals about parent support groups and educational programs. Don’t isolate. This is one of the primary reasons parents feel depressed when caring for a child with diabetes. You are not alone in this. Find classes to enhance your understanding of how to manage diabetes. Check out resources such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. They have parent mentors, walk-athons and family gatherings, and advocacy information, such as info on 504 plans. Other sites with info for parents include Children with Diabetes. Consider a Psychologist if you, your spouse, or your child are having a hard time making the adjustment. Some national diabetes centers have online classes and other online resources.
7. Get organized- have a bag with supplies always ready for the car and include a meter, strips, a quick acting carb, emergency phone numbers, etc;
8. Don’t miss those early medical appointments. Usually you will be seen at the clinic or office within the first month and again within 3 months. These early appointments help establish your clinical team approach and are essential.
9. It does take a team- schedule an appointment with a dietician who specializes in diabetes in children and see him/her regularly- at least once a year, because your child’s nutritional needs change as their body matures and they exit the “honeymoon” stage of diabetes.
10. Speak with the hospital social worker if you are having problems paying for supplies. Adequate blood sugar testing is essential to good control. Seek out counseling if your emotions are making it difficult to function right now or if your child is having difficulty.
My next article in this series addresses common behavioral issues in order to keep your child on track developmentally. Let us know what has worked for you.
None of the above is intended as specific advice for your situation. Every child is different and a personal assessment is necessary. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider with any specific questions about your circumstances. Referencing of resources, individuals, and organizations is not an endorsement, and is for informational purposes only.