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September 30, 2003

Behavior

Question from Westlake, Louisiana, USA:

My 11 year old daughter, who is in junior high school and diagnosed about four months ago, has problems telling people at school she has diabetes. She is embarrassed and is afraid the other kids will think she is weird. I can see how she might feel since I have diabetes, but I was older when I was diagnosed so I did not have to face the situation. How can I make her feel more comfortable and at ease with her diabetes? Anything you can give me to help will be appreciated.

Answer:

Children do not want to be different than their peers. This is particularly true for children in junior high, so your daughter’s concerns are completely normal. She does not need to make a huge public announcement about having diabetes, but she can not keep it a secret either (that’s not safe). So deciding where she wants to be (in the middle of telling everyone and telling no one) is a very personal decision.

To help her with this decision, you may wish to ask her who she thinks has to know that she has diabetes for safety reasons (e.g., coaches, teachers, school nurse), and who she thinks should not know (classmates that she does not spend much time with). Hopefully, this conversation can move to her realizing that her closest friends should also know, as she spends a great deal of time with them, some of which is away from adult supervision.

These friends will need to know what a low blood sugar looks like and how to help her treat it. It is often helpful to invite the closest friends over for a snack or movie or dinner, and during that time, tell them all at once that she has diabetes, what it is, what it is not (e.g., contagious). You should be available to answer any questions her friends may have. Once her friends learn a bit about diabetes, and hear that your daughter is the same exact person she was a few months ago, that she is not fragile, and that she can do everything she did before, they will treat her no differently than they did before her diagnosis.

JWB

[Editor’s comment: In addition to Dr. Benchell’s suggestions, I would also suggest you ask for a referral to a pediatric diabetes center. Such a facility will have a team of specialists (including a mental health professional) who are familiar with this issue and have the means to assist your daughter in adapting to her diabetes.

SS]