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5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About Their Type 1 Diabetes Management

If you are a parent or caregiver of a type 1 diabetic, the way in which you speak and express emotions matters...a lot. Children and teens observe how you deal with the frustrations and stress around diabetes management. They will soak in all the information like a sponge. It is essential to remain neutral and come from a place of nonjudgement when supporting your child with their diabetes management. If you are constantly huffing and puffing when their blood sugar is high or grunting when they eat a snack without bolusing, they will pick up on these behaviors once they begin managing their blood sugars on their own. This blog post will guide you through language considerations you should be aware of when it comes to caring for your child with type 1 diabetes.

Importance of Using Neutral and Nonjudgmental Language When Your Child Has Type 1 Diabetes

The use of language surrounding diabetes can impact the way that your child’s motivation, engagement, behaviors, and outcomes with diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a complex and challenging condition that needs to be managed around the clock. In an article published by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), it states that using empowering language that can educate and motivate your child with diabetes can decrease their diabetes distress and burnout and improve their diabetes outcomes. While using language that shames and judges may undermine their efforts. It is important to recognize that utilizing language that is neutral and nonjudgmental has a strong impact on your child’s diabetes behaviors and potential outcomes.

Avoid Using Judgmental Phrases When Discussing Your Child’s Diabetes Management

As a parent of a T1D, you always have your child’s best interests at heart and of course you want them to keep their blood sugars in range as much as possible. When it comes to your child’s diabetes management, you may find yourself using words like: non-compliant, uncontrolled, don’t care, should, or failure. Using these words and phrases when discussing your child’s diabetes management may make them feel like they are bad, signify personal failures, or character flaws. Below are some suggestions to help you avoid using judgmental phrases when discussing your child’s diabetes management:

  • If you are saying, “You should be checking your blood sugar more often at school.”

  • Try saying this, “You are doing such a good job checking your blood sugar at home. What might make checking your blood sugar easier while at school?”

  • If you are saying, “Why don’t you care about your blood sugars?”

  • Try saying this, “I know managing diabetes must be overwhelming for you. Do you have any concerns you’d like to discuss that you may be facing?”

Stop Using Fear-Based Tactics To Change Your Child’s Behaviors

There is no avoiding the fact that there are a variety of complications like neuropathy, blindness or vision loss, kidney disease, heart disease, or amputations that are associated with a diabetes diagnosis. Using fear-based tactics that are associated with diabetes complications should not be used as a way to change your child’s behaviors surrounding their diabetes management. When using fear-based tactics, this may have the opposite effect of what you intend and make your child further disengage from their management.

  • If you are saying, “If you don’t take your diabetes more seriously you are going to end up like Aunt Mary who went blind! Do you want that?”

  • Try saying this, “Managing your blood sugars closer will give you more energy for you to play soccer.”

  • If you are saying, “You know what could happen to you if you don’t manage your blood sugars.”

  • Try saying this, “You always have more energy to play with your friends when your blood sugars are in range. How can we work together so you can enjoy more time with your friends?”

Limit Making Labels & Assumptions About Your Child’s Diabetes Management

There are many factors that can impact blood sugar levels that are often overlooked like quality and quantity of sleep, stress levels, and hormone changes. Which means that there are a number of reasons far beyond what your child may or may not have eaten that could potentially cause their blood sugar levels to be out of range. When you make assumptions that your child’s blood sugar is elevated because they must have eaten something that they shouldn't have, it completely bypasses all of the factors that may also be influencing their blood sugar levels.

  • If you are saying, “What did you eat before bed last night? Your blood sugar went so high.”

  • Try saying this, “You always have more energy to play with your friends when your blood sugars are in range. How can we work together so you can enjoy more time with your friends?”

  • If you are saying, “If you ate a snack and didn’t dose for it, just tell me.”

  • Try saying this, “I noticed that your blood sugar has been rising everyday around 3pm. Any ideas why this might be happening?”

Keeping Your Body Language & Tone Positive

As frustrating as it may be for you to see your child’s blood sugar out of range, remember how it must feel for them to have their blood sugars at that level. Trust me- I get where the frustration comes from. As a parent of a type 1, you are losing hours of precious sleep every night checking blood sugar levels and feeling like your life revolves around carb counts, site changes, and more. Since you spend so much time and energy dedicated to keeping your child’s blood sugar in range, it makes sense that you experience frustration, anger, sadness, or overwhelm too. While you may not be living with diabetes yourself, you are still carrying around the burden of managing diabetes– which is a lot to manage.

It can be difficult to constantly be positive and upbeat especially on the days where nothing seems to go right. When those days happen (because they will happen), I encourage you to try to keep your body language and tone of your voice as neutral as possible. If you begin to express frustrations by grunting, sighing, or yelling your child will pick up that this is an acceptable reaction to have. Instead you want to remain calm and collected to teach your child that even when you do everything right and give diabetes your best effort, sometimes diabetes has other plans. You will be teaching them that even on the tough days they can work through it.

If you are looking for more guidance as a parent or caregiver of a T1D, you read more about how I support parents here. We will work together to uncover major roadblocks you are facing so you can gain clarity and confidence necessary to manage and support someone with T1D.


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