So it came to my attention recently that siblings have a difficult time after their brother or sister gets diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. All the attention for the siblings not living with diabetes disappears, as the family rallies around the child living with diabetes. Although, attention around being sick is not usually positive, the siblings would rather have negative attention than none. The loss of attention can cause jealousy and anger.
All children react differently to the shift of attention. Some siblings may be overly helpful, but secretly resent this change of attention. Other siblings will not hide their anger causing a healthy child to act out and seen as a bad child. Regardless of how your kid acts, parents need to be aware of the changes in their family dynamics.
Ideally, you want to start off right by not making diabetes your sole focus, from the time your child gets home from the hospital ’til they leave home. There are several ways that you can achieve this.
Do not change your family diet the moment your child gets home from the hospital. Instead, adjust your child’s insulin to food your family is already eating. Then, slowly change your family diet over time to a healthier diet, and take responsibility for the changes, so your child living with diabetes doesn’t have to.
If you’ve already changed the diet drastically or have different diets in place for your child living with diabetes, make everyone’s food uniform through compromise. Your children who don’t have diabetes will get back some of the things they enjoy, and that will reduce some of the friction between your kids.
In a family meeting, clearly, explain to each member of the family what their role will be in helping your child living with diabetes. Remember, it is not the job of the other kids to monitor your child living with diabetes or to tell you when they are not managing their diabetes properly. That is for you, their doctors and other adult caregivers to do, dependent on the age of your child living with diabetes.
Avoid continuously discussing diabetes related issues as a topic of conversation. There are plenty things in your children’s lives to talk about other than diabetes. Keep discussions about diabetes with the people who take care of your child and your child living with diabetes.
Lastly, make sure that positive and equal attention is given to all the children in your house. I know it’s overwhelming but keep this in mind. Diabetes is just a small portion of your child life, and all the other areas of their lives need support. Just as your other children need your help as well.
An imbalance of attention to members of the family become increasingly difficult to rectify after the fact. The negative feelings that form due to an imbalance of attention between siblings and the child living with diabetes can last a long time through adulthood. In the end, these behaviors may even cause estrangement from a brother or sister. This is on top of so much that’s already been taken from them due to their illness.
Remember your child living with diabetes doesn’t want to argue with their siblings and defiantly doesn’t want to be seen as sick. If you need help finding a healthy balance in your family, please contact a mental health professional that specialize in family work or chronic illness.
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.