The other day I got after my 4-year-old son for sneaking food — I was at my wits’ end! I walked into his bedroom, and he had a tub full of gummy bears on his bed. He saw me, threw the evidence in the corner of the room, and ran away. The day before that, it was strawberry stems underneath the dining room table and yogurt wrappers in the playhouse. You would think I never fed the poor boy! I’ve explained to him again and again that if he would just ask, I would be happy to let him have something to snack on. Is this just something that all kids do?
When Kaitlyn was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 3, she didn’t understand the concept that we gave her precise amounts of insulin for everything she ate. She knew that Mom and Dad were always the ones to serve her meals, but at that age, I don’t think she would have thought twice about eating something given to her by her brother or sister. What if she had been a sneaker like Jonathan? I’m so grateful that she hasn’t gone through a sneaky phase so far. Now that she’s older, she understands that everything she eats affects her blood sugar, and that Mom is always there with a watchful eye!
I know we’re not out of the woods yet. I’ve been researching lately about teens with type 1 who go into a rebellious phase soon after they take on full responsibility of their diabetes care. One mom tells about her 12-year-old son who started “sneaking food, hiding the wrappers, not bolusing for what he sneaks, lying about blood sugars, etc.” She had spent the last 10 years devoted to taking good care of him and obviously provided a very good example of how to take care of his disease.
What is a mom to do? I’m sure she feels like I do with my son — completely frustrated. It’s much more than that though — these kids with type 1 are setting a course for how they will manage their health for the rest of their lives. Good examples and parental oversight might not be enough. What can we do for our kids entering this vital phase in their lives?
Here are a few ideas I’ve gathered from doing a little research…
1. Leave anger out of it. I’ve heard from multiple sources that if parents, doctors, and caregivers react with anger, it will only push kids farther away and make them want to hide even more. Reprimands and accusations will simply not work.
2. Don’t have a negative reaction to high numbers. If we can focus on having a neutral reaction to blood sugar readings, our kids will probably be more willing to be open with us. Then we can give advice on how to proceed. My sister-in-law Jen always says, “We just see what the number is and go from there.”
3. See sneaking food for what it is. These kids are going through a rough time anyway without putting diabetes into the mix. Puberty is a time when they’re trying to grow into adults and take care of themselves in their own way. When Kaitlyn reaches that age, I’ll try to remember not to overreact to small things. If she’s sneaking a juice box, it’s not like she’s going out and doing drugs. I want to remember to “save the relationship” and trust that with support and love, she’ll figure it all out.
4. Let them have a break. Taking care of diabetes is exhausting. The Children with Diabetes® website suggests that if children are not doing what they need to do, we can just step in and take over the management for a little while. Let them have a break from performing the day-to-day tasks themselves.
5. Seek professional help. If Kaitlyn ever goes through a rough patch, maybe going to see a therapist — especially one who is knowledgeable about diabetes — could help. Our kids are used to talking to mom and dad, doctors, nurses, dietitians, and diabetes educators. They might need to talk to a neutral person who will not judge or punish in any way.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.
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