Diabetes is a disease that affects the whole family, especially when a child is diagnosed. Whether your child was just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes or you’re entering a new life stage or experience with diabetes, everyone needs some emotional support now and then. 

The memory of the moment of diabetes diagnosis is a profound one. Psychologists call it a ‘flashbulb’ memory, in which you can recall all the exact elements of the moment you heard the news, with startling clarity.

Parents often go through a grieving process when they find out that their child has diabetes. It can be difficult to come to terms with the idea that a child has a chronic condition that will need to be managed for the rest of his or her life. It’s normal to feel grief and sadness.  Many parents also feel guilty and wonder if they could have prevented diabetes somehow. 

Some parents also might feel unsure about taking on the tasks of caring for a child with diabetes, such as administering medications and helping their child follow a meal plan.  Other common concerns from parents of children with diabetes are medical care and costs, how to manage diabetes at school or daycare, how to manage diabetes during holidays and special occasions, how to prepare for camps and sleepovers, finding a babysitter and what to do on sick days.

The diabetes diagnosis can cause a grieving for your child’s lost health, in the same way as you may grieve for a lost loved one. It is a natural human tendency to live life rarely thinking about our health or mortality.  It is not until something life changing happens that you suddenly become hyper-aware that no life is without its limits.

Below are the stages of grief.  You may not have experienced all of these emotions towards diabetes, or in this particular order.

  • Stage 1: Denial
  • Stage 2: Anger
  • Stage 3: Bargaining
  • Stage 4: Depression
  • Stage 5: Acceptance

Here are some tips to help you thrive:

  • Educate Yourself
  • Focus on the Task at Hand
  • Assemble Your Team
  • Tend to Your Emotional Health
  • Set an Example
  • Know That It Should Get Easier

So what can you do to cope with your own feelings?  Here are 8 additional ideas for action:

  1. Remember that knowledge is power.  Ask questions of the healthcare professionals caring for your child. Also ask for information and tips on coping with your child’s emotional issues.
  2. Attend to your own needs as well as your child’s. When you can, let others — like relatives and friends — share the responsibilities of caring for your family. Remember that you can’t do it all.
  3. Realize that you’re not the only family out there dealing with Type 1. 
  4. Remember that other parents are often your best source of help and advice. 
  5. Consider asking for help from a counselor and social worker to work through feelings of anger, depression or fatigue. 
  6. Attend support group meetings- these can be in person, online, through email or social media.  Remember to connect with others and get help when you need it. The following organizations can provide information and connections to other families that have a child with Type 1 diabetes:
    •    American Diabetes Association (diabetes.org)
    •    JDRF (jdrf.org)
    •    Children with DIABETES® (childrenwithdiabetes.com)
    •    Diabetes Research Foundation (diabetesresearch.org)
  7. Remember that you aren’t perfect – and neither is your spouse, partner or family member.  You should all work together as a team.  “You and your spouse will do things differently. You are different people and you can’t read each other’s minds.  Remind each other that you are a team and a team works together.  Ultimately, your goal is the same — to keep your child healthy and happy.” (American Diabetes Association). The American Diabetes Association offers some useful Parent-to-Parent Communication Tips:
    •    Talk at a time when you are not already in conflict. If you discuss it in the heat of the moment, you are unlikely to come to a resolution.
    •    Ask questions and truly listen to each other’s responses.
    •    Share your honest feelings. Not just about the everyday decisions on diabetes care but also the deeper and darker emotions, such as guilt and fear.
    •    Make decisions together. Be consistent in delivering your decisions. Your child will sense when you are not working together.
    •    Set realistic expectations. Remember that no one is perfect.
    •    Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
    •    Stay calm and listen before you react.
  8. One last step- don’t forget to help another.  Remember it has not been long since you were in their shoes so desperately searching for support.

By: Jessica Fountain, RN, BSN, CDE


Kids Health Diabetes: Dealing with Feelings

“Supporting parents of children with type 1 diabetes mellitus: a literature review”

American Diabetes Association: Parenting Children with Diabetes