Q: We had a rocky start adjusting to type 1 diabetes, and my newly diagnosed 9-year-old missed out on playing hockey this winter. Now he’s told me that he just doesn’t feel like himself anymore. How should I respond?

A: Children newly diagnosed with type 1 can sometimes be reluctant to share these kinds of feelings with their families, so consider yourself fortunate to get this window into his world.

To get to the bottom of what’s going on, first let him know that you’re glad he brought these feelings to your attention. Then try to gently delve a little deeper by simply asking what part makes him feel different? Is it something that happened in the classroom related to type 1, something going on at home, the diagnosis itself? Or is it hockey?

Be sure he clearly understands that type 1 diabetes does not mean he has to give up sports. Once he’s feeling that he has enough energy to play hockey, he should get back into his normal routine. Playing his favorite sport may be a big part of his identity (perhaps more than you realize), and it makes sense that missing the season could throw his sense of self into doubt, especially when it coincides with a major health diagnosis.

He may be thinking right now that he won’t ever play hockey again because of diabetes. If your conversation uncovers this misconception, take time to correct it. Let him know there’s no sport he can’t play because of his diabetes. Go on the web together to look up some sports stars who have type 1. Among this roster of pro-athletes and Olympians are a number of NHL standouts, including Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers and Nick Boynton, who played with the Chicago Blackhawks the year they won the Stanley Cup.

To really get the point across, find a way to get your son back out on the rink — or at least involved with his team. If the season is still going on, could he attend practice or travel with the team to away games? Are there open skating times for the general public? Don’t be surprised if your son needs a little extra reassurance about his diabetes before getting back out on the ice. Let him know that he can signal to you if he starts feeling off, and then stay visible in the stands.

If the hockey season is already over, look toward the future by considering sports coming up in the springtime. Perhaps you’ve been so focused on getting the hang of type 1 management, it slipped your mind that tryouts for the baseball team are just a few weeks away. To prepare, get back in touch with your diabetes educator to discuss your son’s blood sugar management while playing sports.

Parents have a lot on their plate when their child is diagnosed with type 1, that’s true. Whether you end up on the rink or on the field, it sounds like your son needs to understand right now that he can still take part in all his favorite activities — and that you will help make this happen.

–Julie Coffey, M.S.N., A.R.N.P., is a pediatric nurse practitioner in the division of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.


How Other Parents Deal

“When our son first started playing sports again after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, we did a lot of practice playing basketball in our driveway so he could feel more confident and know exactly how to respond if he felt a low coming on. It was a real confidence booster!”

–Kristen G., mom of David


Related topics:
People in the Know: Our Child’s Pro Athlete Dreams
In the Spotlight: Sports and Type 1 Diabetes
People in the Know: Grieving “The Good Old Days”

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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.