by Joe Solowiejczyk RN, MSW, CDE Manager, Diabetes Counseling & Training, Global Strategic Affairs, LifeScan, Inc.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that does not just affect the child with the disease. It affects the entire family.The initial diagnosis can be devastating - to every family member. From the parents who always want to protect the child - to the diagnosed child who has to learn to accept their disease - and to the siblings whose time with their parents is now being encroached upon because their parents need to spend more time with their brother or sister.
How families organize around a traumatic event is crucial to a healthy psychological environment. It is important that parents spend time with the siblings who do not have diabetes to help them cope with the trauma around them.
After diagnosis, families commonly grieve - but it is vital that they come back together. Some families need counseling; others feel that they can cope on their own. No matter what road is taken, it is important that the other family members do not feel neglected or asked to be more responsible than they should be for their age.
Of course, parents need to focus on the child with diabetes, but it is important that they also set aside time for their other children. It is also helpful to give these children an opportunity to talk to someone outside their family. It could be a counselor, a teacher, diabetes educator, or other children who have brothers or sisters with diabetes.
Acknowledge the sibling's courage and generosity for the support and care that they give their brother or sister. Receiving words of encouragement make you want to do well, just like cheering in sports. Provide opportunities for siblings to get together as a group. There are family camps that allow siblings to come to diabetes camp. Look for support groups in the community. This is a wonderful chance for children to talk to other children who are dealing with the same emotions and issues. It is a time that they can recognize that they are not alone in this world. These environments are also helpful for the parents to meet and share with other parents.Encourage your children to speak up and tell you if you are too focused on and are spending more time with the child who has diabetes. Make sure that they are okay emotionally. Encourage them to talk to you if they are upset. Agree on a happy way for them to get your attention so they don't feel they have to act out. It is easy to get caught up in the situation, but a child is usually the one to bring you back to reality. Listen to your children. They can be extremely observant and extremely wise.
At diagnosis, a little "preventive medicine" for the child without diabetes is important. Let them know upfront that you may be spending some extra time with their brother or sister, but that doesn't mean that they need to have diabetes to get your attention.
When a child is diagnosed, your family's lives will change, but you can maintain a quality of life similar to your "pre-diabetes" days.
Use the information you gain from your healthcare professionals, clergy, family members and others who have experienced living with diabetes in the family. The support you gain will help you and your family get through the tough times and enjoy the good times.
Now go hug someone!