You never want to let diabetes hold your child back. But an underlying medical condition makes every social-distancing decision more difficult. So what do you do when local coronavirus cases aren’t letting up, but every other family is back to letting their kids play together?

Should you let your child stay overnight at a friend’s house? Try out for the basketball team? Return to school for in-person instruction?

Even with COVID-19 restrictions lifted in many communities, the question of returning to normal social activities remains difficult for families with type 1 diabetes. What might be even more difficult is explaining all this to your child, who may not understand why your family is still in lockdown mode when their friends no longer have the same restrictions. How do you help your child through this time without constantly feeling like the “bad guy”?

Acknowledge It

It’s okay to say it — this is a tough time. If kids need to miss out on an activity they were really looking forward to, or expected to happen, the disappointment is real. “Kids feel it, even if they can’t articulate it very well,” says Saul Rosenthal, Ph.D., a Boston-area psychologist who specializes in treating children with diabetes and other chronic health issues. As a parent, it’s important to validate these difficult feelings. “Meet your child where they are and acknowledge that this is a hard time, and then take time to explain the virus so the child understands more why certain decisions are being made,” he recommends.

The pandemic has felt so new and strange to many, but Rosenthal suggests parents think about how they’ve handled things like sick days or absences due to doctor’s appointments in the past. “You can probably think back to a time when your child needed to miss out on a favorite school or social activity before. What worked then to manage disappointment? See if these same strategies can help.”

Stay Connected

If your child is unable to go to a special event, like their best friend’s birthday sleepover, check in with the friend’s parent to see if there is a chance for your child to still connect virtually and be part of the fun. “If the kids will watch a movie, there’s a plug-in that allows people in different homes to sync up and watch a movie in real time and be able to chat about what they’re seeing. This can make your child part of the experience,” Rosenthal says.

If school has returned for in-person instruction and your child will continue to stay home for remote learning, consider connecting with other families who are also opting for remote learning. You can set up times for kids to do homework together or take part in group projects over video calls.

It’s important to note that different age groups may have very different reactions to remote activities. A younger child might need hands-on help, but older kids and teens may already be experts at how to forge strong social ties in a virtual setting.

Reframe Your Role

In having to set rules and boundaries around social interactions, have you come to view yourself as the “bad guy” for always saying no? It’s time to shift your perspective. “When you think about what a ‘bad guy’ really is, this is a person doing wrong and making the wrong decisions. That’s not what you’re doing… you’re trying to keep your family safe. So give yourself a new title that reflects this. For example, start calling yourself ‘the protector’ and see how that feels,” Rosenthal suggests.

It’s also important to acknowledge — again, to yourself this time — that right now is just a very difficult time. “You need to let yourself know that you are doing the best you can,” says Rosenthal. None of this is easy.

Make It Special

When Erinne M., a mom from Portland, Maine, decided to keep her daughter Alexa home from school this year, she knew that sitting in front of a computer all day wasn’t going to keep the 11-year-old interested and engaged.

So, she decided to make this school year special. “Some things fell into place and we decided to pursue remote learning on the road. We’ve always dreamed of roadschooling, and now seemed like the perfect time with everything going on… Alexa was thrilled to start middle school; that excitement diminished a bit with the thought of more remote schooling. If she’s going to be learning from a computer, we might as well be (safely) exploring the country until things settle.”

Of course, cross-country travel isn’t an option for everyone. But Rosenthal agrees with the approach of making the time that kids may be out of school more special. “This is a great time to help kids take a deep dive into things they’re passionate about.”

What are your kids’ passions? Find out and then lean into these more. Do they like making movies on their smartphone, drawing, playing music, working on cars, being outside? While you’re at home more, look for ways to allow their interests into their daily life.

Think of it this way: If your kids have ever wished for more time to just do what they want, this crazy year may actually be your chance to make it happen.

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.

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