A lot of parenting articles seem to assume that a good long heart-to-heart is always the solution. And sure, these honest, get-to-the-root-of-the-problem chats can often do just that — when you have the time, mental energy, and a receptive child or teen, that is. Of course, that’s not always the case, especially with the demands of type 1 diabetes care continually looming. Here, we identify some of the most frustrating things tweens and teens with type 1 often say to their parents, followed by two possible options for how to respond, courtesy of psychologist and certified diabetes educator Jill Weissberg-Benchell, Ph.D. Sometimes the touchy-feely talk is the way to go; other times, you just need a quick fix for the conflict at hand — or to fall back on when the big talk hasn’t quite worked.
1. “Stop nagging me!”
The Quick Fix: If your child complains every time you ask her to check her blood sugar, “Simply bring your child the meter, without engaging in any verbal argument,” suggests Weissberg-Benchell. “Find it, get it ready, and present it to your child without a word. This removes any sense of harping or conflict, and also makes the moment a bit silly.” Toward that end, she adds, you can also stand so close when handing over the meter that it’s physically uncomfortable, making kids want to check their blood sugar just to make you go away! Afterward, “No matter what the number is, say, ‘Thank you for checking.’ You want to convey that what you need is the behavior of your child checking — it’s not about the number,” says Weissberg-Benchell.
The Talk: If your child interprets your asking about blood sugar to be nagging, it may be helpful at some point to have a conversation with her about why she thinks you’re doing it. “Most children understand that the nagging comes from worry and concern about their health and safety,” says Weissberg-Benchell. “Ask your child what you can say or do that would not feel like nagging but still ensure that she checks her blood sugar when necessary. Listening to children’s perspective and engaging them in developing a solution is often a helpful approach.”
2. “I’m fine, I just checked — really!”
The Quick Fix: When your child stretches the truth about blood sugar checks or numbers, rather than think, “He’s lying to me,” think, “He’s trying to protect me,” says Weissberg-Benchell. “Kids worry about causing you anxiety or hurting you by admitting that they’re high or low or didn’t check.” Instead of responding with anger or suspicion, say, “I know you don’t want to stress me out, and I appreciate that. But I want to make sure you’re staying healthy.”
The Talk: Accusing children of lying only puts them on the defensive, cautions Weissberg-Benchell. “Instead, try: ‘What is it about the way I talk to you about blood sugar that makes you not want to tell me your numbers?’” she suggests. “Maybe your child will say, ‘Every time I check and the numbers are high, you roll your eyes or you say that I’m going to end up like Aunt Sally [who has complications].’ That might tell you that maybe hitting specific numbers has become too important in your family.” (Simply checking blood sugar regularly — regardless of numbers — is one of the most important factors in reducing the risk of complications from diabetes.) Once you discover the root of the problem, you can adjust your behavior accordingly.
3. “You don’t know what it feels like!”
The Quick Fix: Simply say, “You’re right.” If you don’t have type 1 diabetes yourself, you don’t know what it feels like for your child, even if you’ve worn a pump and checked your own blood sugar half a dozen times a day as an experiment. Remembering that and acknowledging it to your child can go a long way.
The Talk: If you want to express to your child that while you don’t know what diabetes is like, you can relate to the general feeling of challenge and daily obligations, you might continue with, “I won’t ever know — that’s absolutely true. But I do know there are certain behaviors and procedures we have to follow to keep us healthy, and we have to do them whether they are a drag or not.” In a broader sense, your child may also be feeling alone in type 1, especially if he doesn’t know anyone else with the condition. Consider talking with your diabetes care team about how to reach out to other T1D families in your area and/or looking into programs like diabetes summer camps.
4. “It’s not my blood sugar!”
The Quick Fix: When children with type 1 are in a bad mood, talking back, or misbehaving, parents often ask if they’ve checked their blood sugar. Understandably, many children find this annoying, since it makes it seem like parents blame everything on diabetes rather than legitimate problems or moods. When you suspect your child’s blood sugar may be out of range, see Quick Fix #1. If she retorts with “It’s not my blood sugar,” say, “You’re absolutely right.” Continue, and if the number is high or low, treat it. “If not, it’s a parenting issue. Move on,” says Weissberg-Benchell.
The Talk: “Never mix the blood sugar conversation and the mood conversation,” says Weissberg-Benchell. “That sends a terrible message. If the child is having a bad mood, she’s having a bad mood — it’s not necessarily the blood sugar.” Certainly, saying something snarky like, “Well, you better be high or low because your behavior is unacceptable” is a big no-no. If your child isn’t showing any other signs of out-of-range blood sugar, simply ask her, “Is something wrong?”
5. “It’s none of your business anymore!”
The Quick Fix: As much as it hurts for parents to admit, college-age kids who say this are pretty much right. “Your child is over 18, is legally an adult, and is responsible for his own care,” says Weissberg-Benchell. To take the conversation back down a notch, just respond with “I know you’re an adult now, but I’m still very interested in knowing how you’re doing.” If your child doesn’t feel like sharing right then, accept it and change the subject.
The Talk: College kids want to be in charge of their own lives — and that includes their own diabetes care. “When you check in 24/7, it can make them feel like you don’t trust them,” says Weissberg-Benchell. So how do you stay in the loop? Suggest agreeing on a set time when you’ll connect about diabetes. For example, “How about on Sundays at 2 p.m., you upload your meter readings so we can review them and problem-solve together?” That way, you’re letting your child know that you’re confident he has it under control but would like to offer support if you can.
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.