Q: I’m worried our son is heading towards diabetes burnout. I’ve read about giving kids a “diabetes vacation” to help them through times of stress. What does that mean exactly, and how do I do it?
A: A diabetes vacation is a break for your child where you fully take over all type 1 diabetes care tasks, from finger sticks to boluses. If your child is displaying telltale warning signs of diabetes burnout — such as overwhelming frustration, wanting to “give up” on diabetes, and feeling like he has no control — this is important information to share with your diabetes care team. To help your child work through burnout, your care team might recommend that you try giving your child a diabetes vacation for a few days.
By taking on the heavy lifting of diabetes, you have an opportunity to model for your child how to appropriately manage emotions around care tasks. For example, part of your son’s burnout could be linked to him feeling frustrated that he can never get a good drop of blood when testing, or can’t seem to change his site well on the first try (if these are tasks he’s now handling on his own). Seeing you attempt the same tasks and experiencing similar challenges, and then hearing you verbalize feelings or frustrations in an appropriate and productive way, helps your child gain positive coping skills and understand that when difficulties arise, it’s not because he is doing something wrong or because he is a “bad diabetic.” Depending on what your care team recommends, the plan may be to give your child a diabetes vacation for a few days (say, three or so), and then check in to see if he is feeling better.
The important piece is to make sure that this kind of break is helping your child in the long run, rather than giving in to a child’s avoidance of diabetes. A diabetes vacation may not be the best tool for all children. If kids push their diabetes away because it’s difficult, they may end up asking for frequent “vacations” simply as a means to avoid something that is difficult for them, rather than focusing on building skills related to acceptance and flexibility when things are tough.
Your care team can help you decide whether or not a diabetes vacation is the right approach for your child. Let his voice, too, be heard during this process. Whatever plan you and your care team decide on to help your child deal with burnout, what’s important is that it be designed to teach him resilience, especially related to his diabetes — a skill that will serve him throughout life.