Recently, I attended a conference featuring psychologists Benjamin Ogles, Ph.D., and Louise Jorgensen, Ph.D. Their presentation was titled “Teaching Emotional Strength and Resilience to Our Youth.” This topic of teaching resilience to our children resonates deeply with me. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is that our kids are going to face many challenges, difficulties, and problems in their lives. The ability to adapt well to these adversities and stressful situations is what we’re talking about with resilience. As parents, we can help our children learn resilience by helping them learn and practice positive emotional skills. Ogles and Jorgensen outlined five principles to teach and practice with our children: fostering connection and attachment, becoming socially competent, gaining confidence, problem solving, and decision making.

So what would teaching and practicing these skills look like with our children who have type 1 diabetes? Let me give you my insights as to how we can help our kids learn emotional resilience, particularly with the added pressures of constant diabetes care.

  1. Fostering connection and attachment.

Does it ever feel like all you do is talk to your child about blood sugar numbers—reminding them to test, dose, etc.? It’s really hard to separate these endless conversations from our real and deep relationships with them. Our children need to know that they’re more than just diabetes. They need to know that we love them for who they are, and that no matter what their number, they’re worthy of our love and affection. Spending real time with them, unplugging from electronics, having appropriate physical contact, speaking with empathy, and validating their emotions can help foster this essential connection.

  1. Helping them to become socially competent.

From the very beginning, we have taught Kaitlyn not to be ashamed of her diabetes. She doesn’t hesitate to talk about it with her friends, and she’s been able to create friendships in which she can talk freely about what she does to take care of herself without feeling awkward. I also feel that we need to help our kids learn to be assertive with grown-ups in a positive way. Let them practice speaking to adults on their own to express how they feel and what they need rather than continuously speaking for them.

  1. Assisting them to gain confidence.

This is a crucial one—self-esteem and confidence are essential for emotional resilience. We can compliment, praise, and encourage our children, but we also need to remember that confidence is built from the inside out. It’s important that we let our kids practice being confident—using positive self-talk, giving them opportunities to succeed, and helping them practice gratitude or look for the positive in every situation. One important principle I’ve learned is to avoid body-shaming language, especially in front of our children. If we are always talking about how we feel fat, ugly, or old, we are directly teaching our children to use the same destructive self-talk. Instead, we should promote physical fitness and trying to look our best. I learned from Louise Jorgensen that exercise will actually produce a brain protein that helps foster self-esteem.

  1. Teaching problem-solving ability.

Problem solving is something that can be learned, but unfortunately, our children can’t really learn how to solve problems until they have problems. This is a concept I struggle with. I think most parents don’t like to see their children have problems or experience failure. We are so quick to jump in and fix everything. I’m trying to reframe my thinking to remember that it’s okay and even healthy for our kids to have problems. Failure should actually be seen as progress. Letting them have a little independence as they learn to take care of their diabetes can be a really scary idea, but it’s so important to their growth and learning.

  1. Promoting good decision making.

This one is similar to the problem-solving idea. Our children can learn to make good decisions, but only when they’re allowed to make decisions. I’ve seen several parents successfully allow their children to make many decisions for themselves, such as which insulin pumps they use, for example. Of course, you need to consider what decisions are appropriate for the child’s age and maturity, and until they’re ready to make decisions on their own, you can model good decision making for them.

Hopefully these thoughts will give you some ideas. I’m not promising that they will work for everyone in every situation, but I hope that little by little we will be able to help our children develop resilience so that someday they will be ready to face their challenges head-on.

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.

Related topics:
Finding the Choices With Diabetes
Giving Your Child More Freedom — the Safe Way
A Year-by-Year Guide to Type 1 Self-Care

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