Tweens and teens have a reputation for going incommunicado seemingly the minute they enter puberty. It’s a struggle for most parents, but with type 1 diabetes, keeping the lines of communication open becomes an even more immediate matter of health and safety. To help you walk the line between loosening the reins of control over diabetes care while maintaining a watchful eye, we consulted experts and fellow parents for their top tips and strategies.
Come Up With a Communication Plan — Together.
“Kids don’t always want to listen to their parents, whether it’s about cleaning their room or doing their diabetes care, so it can be tough to communicate with them. Try to work as a team with your child to make a plan on how you will communicate. The child should be the leader of the team, and together you can discuss the best way to communicate necessary health information. Perhaps your child will text twice a day at designated times, call at certain times, or send a daily email with updates. Whatever your plan of action, it should be something that works for the entire family that you can all agree upon.”
–Jeniece Trast, R.N., C.D.E., M.A., clinical research nurse manager and certified diabetes educator at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City
Try Not to Judge.
“I often feel judged by the number that pops up on my child’s blood glucose meter or on the A1C machine at the endocrinologist’s office…even though I know I should take it only as information that I can use to move forward. So just think how tweens or teens feel when they are the ones responsible for their own diabetes care! I try not to make my daughter feel judged either. As care is transitioned over to children, we can’t expect them to get it right 100 percent of the time. Open lines of communication by letting them know that you are there to help them when they get it wrong and to boost them up when they are doing things right.”
–Leighann C., creator of D-Mom Blog, whose daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 3
Have a Weekly Review.
“It’s a matter of compromise: While parents should get comfortable looking at downloaded data and texting with their child, kids need to understand that parents need to remain involved, and they should provide information to Mom and Dad on a regular basis. For older teens, I usually recommend at least a weekly review of data so that any glaring problems with blood sugar control can be addressed.”
–Gary Scheiner, M.S., C.D.E., exercise physiologist, certified diabetes educator and founder of Integrated Diabetes Services in Wynnewood, Penn.
Keep It Short and Simple.
“I try to keep conversations about type 1 short, simple, and to the point. And I never lead with, ‘What’s your blood sugar?’ There are enough opportunities throughout the year to have serious talks as the need arises; there is no reason to make every moment feel dire, dramatic, or overwhelming. We talk about diabetes the same way that we talk about everything else. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.”
–Scott B., creator of the blog Arden’s Day and father of a daughter with type 1 diabetes
Let the Meter Do the Talking.
“Tweens and teens need to be responsible for themselves, but they still need assistance from their parents. Try looking at your child’s meter at the end of each day to confirm that the tests were done and to review the results. That way, you’re not always nagging or asking ‘Have you tested?’”
–Diane Ballard, R.N., B.S.N., C.D.E., C.P.T., clinical research coordinator and insulin pump trainer at Kentucky Diabetes Endocrinology Center in Lexington, Ky.
Banish “We” From Your Vocabulary.
“Remember that even though you have been there from the beginning, you do not understand what it’s like to be a child with type 1 diabetes. You may think you understand, but until you’re poking your finger four times a day, receiving insulin injections, and having every piece of food you eat analyzed, you cannot fully understand. That doesn’t mean you can’t empathize, but be very careful to not use the word ‘we’ too much. I have had many young adults tell me that the one thing that upsets them the most is when a parent says, ‘Well, we do this’ or ‘We check our sugars.’ You may be part of the process, but they are actually the ones experiencing this.”
–Christie Hust, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E., L.D., director of the Diabetes Education Center at Texas Tech’s Larry Combest Community Health and Wellness Center in Lubbock, Texas
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.