Kids Need Support Even More Than You
You've felt firsthand the almost aching need for support, for a person who knows what you're going through, for a place where you feel surrounded by compatriots. As painful as that need is for you, your child probably feels it twice as much or more. From toddlers to young adults, all children need to understand that they are not the only ones who are hurting and that there are others who can share insight into this life with them. Most likely, you've sought support for yourself first, and that's okay. Think of it in terms of the oxygen mask on an airplane: In an emergency, adults are supposed to put one on their own face first and then on the child's. This isn't because you're more important; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Adults need to make themselves strong and healthy so they can care for the children around them. Now that you've found support for yourself and have begun feeling stronger in this new situation, it's time to focus on your child's support needs.
Tiny Tots and Support
Why would a toddler need support? The small child with diabetes may be expected to just toddle on and intellectualize later in life, but he needs to see, at the very least, that other children his age go through the same thing.
Some toddlers may be compliant from the start; others will fight finger pricks and shots. Getting them in a room or at a playground with a group of other kids their age who need to do the same thing can be a powerful message. Imagine a group of tots all frolicking in a sandbox. At the same time, the parents announce, “Okay, time to do our blood checks and have a snack.” Suddenly, instead of being the only one singled out, your toddler looks around and sees
While age appropriateness is vital for a support group, don't skip the idea completely if you can only find a group with older kids. Sometimes, seeing a big kid deal with diabetes has a positive impact on younger children, too.
Seeing other toddlers in action may open your little one to new ideas; a shot in a spot she's never allowed you near before, or the idea of wearing an insulin pump. While your child is still developing thoughts and feelings, it can only help to have her observe others dealing with the same issues. Savvy parents or caregivers know to find a play group that stresses kind, cooperative play and nice activities like group reading; in like manner, savvy diabetes parents find a peer group for their children with diabetes at as young an age as possible.
Tweens and Support
Tweens are perhaps the easiest group to lure into support. Still ahead of the awkward “I don't want to be with a group you force me into” stage, tweens are pretty much willing to try anything—and they need it. Preteens are usually trying to grab a bit of freedom. Whether it's giving their own shot for the first time, really considering an insulin pump (or in this day, a continuous glucose monitor), or counting the carbs in their own meals (with parental backup), tweens can learn more from each other than they ever can from either their medical team or you.
Teens and Support
This is a hard nut to crack. Teens, whether they are newly diagnosed or have been in the diabetes world for years, possibly need peer-to-peer support more than any other age group. Ironically, this is the age they most want to “blend” with their friends at school. They'll often balk at the suggestion of attending a teen diabetes group, but it's a good idea to push finding support in one way or another. After all, you can tell your teen, there are some things he is going to face that will need true insight from someone who has been there (Chapter 18 has more details on the teen years). Your teen is not going to be able to ask you about everything (in fact, he probably won't ask you at all). Tell him that if he has the support and input of other teens with diabetes, you'll be more comfortable giving him more freedom in life.
Is “group attendance bribery” okay?
Bribery isn't the best strategy in parenting, but bargaining can be. Try for example, “If you attend this group regularly, I won't be as worried about you going boating all day long.” That way the child sees an inherent reward in attending the group.
Teens need a place where they can talk, safely, about issues they just may not be able to discuss with you. It's hard to swallow, but it's part of life. The parent who helps her teen find the place to work that out ends up better off.