Helping a Child with Juvenile Diabetes

Diabetes can be a challenge to manage as an adult. For children, it requires the love and support of a knowledgeable and caring parent, willing to devote the time to learning and teaching management techniques. Helping a child with juvenile diabetes requires patience, and the support you provide will depend on the age and maturity level of the child in question.

Young Children

The biggest challenge for young children will be understanding why so many aspects of their lives have suddenly changed. A young child who has recently received a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes will be subjected to dietary changes, glucose monitoring, and insulin injections. When a child is in the process of learning how the world around him works, these adjustments can be very difficult. He might respond by acting out, becoming more irritable, or withdrawing into his own mind. These are natural responses that arise from his confused feelings—feelings of shame, fear, or the sense that he is being punished.

The most important thing you can do for a young child is to begin teaching him or her about the importance of self-care. It is tempting to take over all aspects of your child's treatment, but being overprotective will only cause more trouble in the long run. It may lead to a child using diabetes or low blood sugar as leverage against you, or may cultivate within your child a sense of low self-esteem or "sickliness". To avoid this, try to be supportive without being overprotecting, and show your child that caring for him- or herself is a way of boosting confidence and demonstrating maturity.

Teenagers

The teenage are never easy for anyone. The physical and psychological changes that come with puberty can be overwhelming. For children with type 1 diabetes, both types of changes can be even more severe, and each will require different steps from you, the parent.

Psychological Challenges

Sexual identification and independence from parental authority are the hallmarks of growing up, along with a desire to fit in with one's own age cohort. While all kids struggle with these issues, it can be harder for diabetic children. Developing a healthy sexual identity requires an acceptance of one's own body. In addition, teenagers are bombarded with media portrayals of people their own age as healthy, beautiful, and perfect. Teenagers with diabetes may not feel any of these things about themselves, which can lead to confusion about who they are and what value their lives have. Your role should be one of constant reassurance, and you should make sure your child knows he can come to you with any questions or concerns.

Physical Hurdles

Another major problem with diabetic teenagers is the strictly physical effect puberty has on the body. Many of the hormones that appear in quantity during puberty can exacerbate type 1 diabetes, especially Growth Hormone (GH). Its main role is to regulate bone and muscle growth, but GH can also inhibit insulin effectiveness, making routine injections less predictable and blood sugar levels harder to control.

Make sure your teenager knows that the challenges she is facing are normal, and not a result of poor self-care or because her body is "broken". Also, try to point out that all of her friends are having to face changes in their own bodies, even if they don't have diabetes.

Conclusion

Helping a child with juvenile diabetes can be struggle. A disease that requires constant conscious management is always wrapped up in questions of body ownership and a sense of identity and self-worth. As a parent, your role should be to provide support when necessary and to encourage you child's independent exploration of who they are as a unique person.

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