Parenting the Attitude towards Type 1 Diabetes
My four-year old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she had JUST turned three. Three years old and diagnosed with a chronic disease! Click here to read her story of being diagnosed.
A three-year old should be crafting and playing outside and able to eat whatever they want and going for sleepover at the grandparents house. Not dealing with five needles a day, medicine and carefully measured out food.
In some ways though, she does still get to do some of these ‘normal’ things. Not all — but most.
When I tell people about my daughter, especially that for the frist year of her diagnoses she needed 5 needles a day to stay alive! Of COURSE I get a reaction. Who wouldn’t!
Since diagnoses she’s considered a ‘special needs’ child because she can’t live without the supervised help of an adult. (Not that any three-year old should be left alone, but if we are not there for her every meal, she would suffer the consequences of a high blood sugar)
She needs constant daily care.
I cringe at this label of ‘special needs’ and at first fought against it. But as I learned the depth and began to understand the life long management that we (basically her) will have with Type 1 Diabetes, I’ve learned to embrace the label. Why? Because she does have a chronic disease that is never going away. I do need to know what she is putting in her mouth and how much insulin she needs given every single meal to help her body use the energy the food gives her.
Type 1 Diabetes …
— It is us
— It is her
— yet it doesn’t define her or hold her back. It’s now a piece of who she is.
When my daughter was frist diagnosed, I had eight months with her fully at home before she went to part-time kindergarten. Eight months to figure it out this disease now a part of her and my life. We were able to figure out the medication, and daily management of type 1 diabetes. The physical aspect.
But as Parents
— it’s our attitude towards the disease that is a constant learning curve. In new situations or new menu options, we are very conscious about how we react as parents.
She’s watching us.
She will grow up learning and copying us.
At first, when we were training her teachers according to regulations, diabetics have a right to have a private space in school to manage their diabetes. (to test their blood in private and give themselves injections) We were trying to figure out which area of the classroom she could use for privacy to manage diabetes. When one of the teachers suggested — Why don’t we not!
Diabetes is nothing to be ashamed of.
The classmates that she has will be with her for a long time. Kids are smart and they understand that SOMETHING is going on. So instead of NOT telling her classmates about her diabetes … why not educate them little by little as they will now will experience Type 1 Diabetes because of having Emma in their lives. They all have to learn at a young age how to handle their reaction towards Emma’s diabetes. When someone wings out a comment of “what’s that?” Parents or teachers have the opportunity to “show and tell”. There is a whole classroom of 4/5/6 year olds that know and are very familiar with the words Type 1 Diabetes.
What does Emma think about all this you wonder? She loves it! What three-year old wouldn’t love all the attention?! When she pulls her glucose meter from her lunch box to give to the E.A. — anyone who asks “what’s that?” she will answer with a matter of fact “That’s my diabetes.”
Take this into our parenting attitude behind the disease again. When Emma, or our other children, or grandparents, ask us questions about Emma and her Type 1 diabetes we turn to Emma and ask her the question. If she can’t answer them, we help her explain, very matter-of-factly.
We DON’T need to answer questions about her diabetes as if she’s is too little to know anything.
We DON’T need to answer for her as if she’s not standing in the same room.
She can take an active role now, though limited to a four years old knowledge base — but what a perfect place to start.
She takes this all to the next level. She will eagerly show you her pump, or meter. Doing what she can to load it up by herself, as much as possible. She will boldly hold out her finger to get pricked for blood testing (especially if others are watching) She will tell you she can’t have that apple juice “because I have diabetes”
She knows that this one thing about her that makes her different from a lot of people around her.
But she also knows that it’s; just the way that things are.
When she does get lonely in her disease she does have her daddy to talk too. Together they can understand and talk about things that NO ONE except a Type 1 Diabetic can understand.
But ANYONE can help a diabetic by asking thoughtful questions. Ask them about how many needles they have to take a day. Ask them at what age were they first diagnosed. Ask them what food, candy or juice they use when they are low. If you are sharing a meal together (and they want to show you how they test their blood) to watch a child set out the instrument that they are VERY used to using everyday to manage their disease. Bet you most kids would love to show you.
Save your pity and baby talk and be fully interested in this piece of who they are.
It’s only a piece.
By: Sharon Schuler