My husband ushered in his 30th birthday by awakening on the floor of the peds ward. Our then 3-year-old son James had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just days prior and was still recovering at the hospital. It was a dramatic time full of emotion and anxiety. Craig and I were both 30 years old, educated, and “seasoned” parents… and we were completely overwhelmed at all the new things we needed to learn about diabetes.
If it’s hard for even full-grown, educated adults, does it not follow that it’s the same for young people with diabetes themselves? Is it any wonder that our teenaged kids struggle to acquire the knowledge, skills, and habits needed for a successful life with diabetes?
This is not to say that they aren’t capable. They can do it. But as parents, we need to be patient and encouraging even when it is so tempting to get really frustrated with them.
One stumbling block we’ve run into is our tendency to hyper-focus on areas where James is still deficient in his diabetes care and “work” on that area. This makes sense — to pick something to strengthen and make better. But for us, a paradigm-shifting strategy has been to instead work on looking for, and pointing out, all the positive things that James does.
Now, I can assure you that James is in many ways a typical teen. I’m going to take a minute to praise him for some things he does really well. Lest you think he’s perfect, please know that I’m certain that many of the struggles you have with your teen, we’re also having with ours.
That said, here are some things he’s awesome at. I’ve never seen James’ insulin pump get low on battery. He’s got such a great habit of making sure that he plugs it in before every shower so it’s always fully charged. And hey, that also means he’s showering regularly! That’s a good thing too, right?
He’s also a wiz at going through his pump settings and inputting boluses and corrections. He’s so much more proficient on his new pump than I am. And that in turn makes me recognize that in contrast to the old days, when he was a little child and I did all his diabetes care, he is really in charge of this thing now. I rarely touch his pump these days; he has appropriately commandeered it for his use.
Another thing James is amazing at is the math calculations he needs to make to count carbs or to bolus. He can track his whole meal and knows more about carbs than most adults I know. He recognizes that when he eats a carb-heavy meal he might want to employ a square or dual bolus, and he can make that happen. He’s become comfortable with carb factors and can use his phone and a kitchen scale to get more precise. Those are some seriously sophisticated diabetes strategies!
It is so easy to be critical of our teens in their type 1 care. There are a million different ways for them to fall short in a day. Count carbs wrong, forget to bolus, bolus incorrectly, forget to bring a juice box, let a site go for too long. On top of that, because this relates directly to both their immediate and their long-term health, as caring parents of course we get concerned when things don’t go perfectly. But I have had great success in switching my mindset. Instead of seeing all the things he’s done wrong in a day, I’m looking for all the things he does right.
This does two things. First, it fixes my own heart. I become more grateful for all the steps I see him taking. It fills me with hope to see how far we’ve come and to see the sheer scope and quantity of tasks he undertakes daily to keep himself healthy. Second, I feel like my paradigm shift helps him to feel more hopeful about diabetes. As I concentrate on the good things he does, he too starts to see them. This has many benefits, including improving his own sense of self-worth and helping our relationship to be stronger — both of these being core values for how I parent. But maybe the thing I like the most about this strategy is that it works. I really believe that kids do better when they are coming from a position of increasing their strength and ability rather than fixing their weaknesses.
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.