Q: Because our son has to interact with his teacher more than other students (she helps with blood sugar checks and extra snacks), he’s getting teased by his classmates about being the “teacher’s pet” and receiving favoritism. The teacher mentioned that he was resistant to checks last week—I think because of the teasing. How do we deal with this?

A: It’s quite common for children with type 1 diabetes to feel different from their peers, especially in the classroom where they require help from adults. Depending on his school, teachers, nurses, and aides may all be involved in different ways to support your son in managing his diabetes throughout the day. Teasing a classmate about the assistance he receives is never okay.

Depending on your son’s preferences, there are generally two approaches that can effectively address this kind of situation. One is to reduce the visibility of accommodations by arranging for him to test blood sugars and eat snacks more discreetly. The second is to help classmates become more familiar with type 1 diabetes as a way to normalize diabetes care in the classroom and reduce the chance of further misunderstanding and teasing.

To reduce visibility, look at your child’s class schedule to see if any unstructured times during the day correlate with when he could eat a snack or get help from the teacher with checks. If so, this is an opportunity to schedule these tasks for a time when his peers will be focused on their own independent activities rather than watching the teacher. If available or preferred, you could also coordinate with the school nurse to have your child go to the nurse’s office for testing instead of doing it in the classroom.

Many children go through phases where they feel embarrassed about their type 1 diabetes. If you sense this is going on with your child, meeting with a therapist or joining a support group just for kids with diabetes can help provide emotional support. Working to normalize diabetes in your child’s classroom can also help. One way to do this is to coordinate with the teacher and other class parents to have your child invite a classmate to watch as he performs care tasks, or he can pick a buddy each day to walk with him to the nurse’s office. Through this kind of up-close interaction, the child and the peer are looking at the process of diabetes management as something new to learn about or be involved in together. It probably won’t be difficult to find classmates who want to take part — kids tend to be entranced by the small electronics (meter, pump, etc.) involved in diabetes care!

Another option is to reach out to parents of your child’s peers to determine if they would benefit from learning more about type 1 diabetes. You can offer to provide books and other information for parents to review with their children at home. Or with collaboration from the teacher or school nurse, you could give a class presentation to help all students understand more about diabetes and why it’s nothing to fear or ridicule. Last but not least, remind your child that even though type 1 diabetes is something that challenges him each day, challenges are what make us stronger, and you’re always there to help solve problems together.

Aimee E. Folger, L.I.C.S.W.—Aimee E. Folger, L.I.C.S.W., is a child and adolescent therapist specializing in type 1 diabetes and chronic medical conditions at a private practice in Needham, Mass.


How Other Parents Deal

“Finding out your child is being teased or bullied because of diabetes…it’s a low point. When our son was in first grade, he let us know he was being teased by a few of his classmates. I immediately contacted his teacher. She was so helpful in making a plan for moving forward. The school dealt with the disciplinary issues; I was not involved in any of that. But where I did insert myself was coming in to lead a class discussion about diabetes, and in general, talk about what makes each of us different. As they learned about type 1, the kids were really eager to ask questions and also eager to share their own unique traits. The teasing ended after that and so far has not resurfaced. Education is key!”

—Maggie S., Houston, mom of 9-year-old Evan

Related topics:
Dealing With Bullies
People in the Know: How to Handle Bullying
People in the Know: Bullies at School

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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.