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July 24, 2000

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Question from Oklahoma, USA:

My nine year old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 two years ago and has adjusted very well. In the last six months though, my son, who is almost three, has begun to cry and fuss when asked to eat meals and snacks. Basically, he starves himself during the day. Today, he vocalized that he had to have a shot before eating. Has anyone had any experience or helpful suggestions in dealing with the emotions and fears of siblings of a child with diabetes?


I have tremendous compassion for your situation. I recall hearing a client of mine (whose child was diagnosed with diabetes at age 18 months) speaking of her similar experience. She said that her other child, 3 years older, came in one day and threw the Diabetes Forecast magazine at her mom stating “You should read this issue!” The cover story was entitled “Don’t Forget Your Other Children.”

When the diagnosis of diabetes is made in a child, everyone typically rallies around that child and offers tons of support to the parents initially. Siblings are told that it is because their brother/sister has a new condition that demands lots of attention. After a period of time, resentment can grow in siblings who are “healthy” and they are told they should be grateful that they do not have diabetes. So their angry or frustrated feelings are invalidated. This breeds more resentment. The thought can occur: “maybe if I get sick then I’ll get some special attention too.” Thus acting out is not unusual.

Since your daughter has passed the tough first few years with diabetes, I would suggest that you have a “mommy and me” day each week with your son. A day when the two of you do something special together. It is difficult with the hectic pace of our world to make such an arrangement, but it does pay off tremendously. Remind him that he doesn’t have to be ill to have your love. Explore his feelings as you go to bookstores, the park, or the local art offerings. Do not tell him not to feel what he feels: try to listen to what he is not saying: ” I need you too, Mom” and respond in the way that feels appropriate. Tell him there is plenty of room in your heart for both of your children.