The weather forecast for tonight said it was going to be a perfect night for trick-or-treating, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s. Andre woke up thinking about the leaves changing color, which put him in a good mood. He always loves this time of the year.
Today is Halloween, and Andre turned 12-years-old today. He was not looking forward to what laid ahead. He was diagnosed with type I diabetes over three years ago, and he’s no longer as excited about Halloween.
Before leaving for school, he asked his mother, “Can I please stay home today, Pleeease!” His mother replied, “No, now hurry up; you’re going to miss the bus! I am already late, and I don’t want to have to drive you to school.” Andre looks down at the floor as he started to head towards the door, hoping his mother would call out, wait, you can stay home. But alas, he got to the door, and there was no “wait or esperate,” as his mother says now and then — just silence.
Andre made the bus and arrived at school on-time. He was standing by his locker, waiting for the first period to start when his best friend John showed up. John was the only person in his life who had an inkling of what was going on with Andre. John asks, “I know you were upset with your parents last year when you had to give up your candy for toys, but how are you feeling about tonight?”
Andre said somewhat confidently, “I’m feeling better about it since you said you would hold on to some of my candy for me after we go trick-or-treating tonight.” Andre’s voice softened, “I’m scared that I’m going to run into one of those bullies and end up punching one of them again.” John replied, “Just ignore them and trust me; after a while, they’ll leave you alone.” “Well, I am still worried about it. Last time it happened, the principal got mad at me. He told me if it happens again that I was going to be suspended from school for a week!”
John responded, “Just remember to ignore them, and everything will be fine.” Andre said quietly, “I will try to ignore them, but it will be difficult. I wish my mother had just let me stay at home today.” Andre stated firmly, “Well, you’re here, and I don’t want to miss out on going trick-or-treating with you tonight.” Just then, the bell rang. John said, “There’s the bell, and I have to get to class.” As John walked down the hall, he yelled out, “I’ll see you later tonight, and just remember to ignore them!”
Andre didn’t end up having to ignore them, after all. He hadn’t seen the bullies all day and figured they just decided to play hooky from school. When the school bus picked him up to go home, he was relieved.
Turning 12 did not change the fact that he still had diabetes. Since getting diabetes, he was sick a lot more. But, he didn’t feel like a different person. However, some bullies in school thought otherwise. Unfortunately, while he was eating breakfast, his mood changed, and Andre became overwhelmed and nervous about going to school. Feeling overwhelmed isn’t a new feeling for Andre, but today it was heightened because of his parents’ overly strict rules about Halloween and negative feelings about giving up his candy.
He noticed that both his mother’s and father’s demeanor had changed since he was diagnosed with diabetes and felt disconnected from his parents. He feels partly responsible for his parent’s anger because if he hadn’t gotten diabetes, they would not be so frustrated all the time.
Because he believes that they are angry and disappointed with him, he doesn’t keep them apprised of what is going on at school. He doesn’t want them to feel bad or be even more upset with him. He doesn’t want to cause them any more pain.
There is a tendency for some parents to talk too much about diabetes with their children. This usually comes in the form of managing it. A lot of this discussion is fear-based or a need to control their child’s diabetes. Somewhere the child gets lost in all the, “how were your blood sugars today? Were they high or low? Was it a good day?” (Aka, where their blood sugar under control?) How many carbs did you eat at lunch? Did you give extra insulin for…?
How their child living with diabetes feels about having it or how it is impacting the parent-child relationship are not always addressed. Andre was constantly feeling responsible for his diabetes and all that it entailed. He was both happy and sad that his mother didn’t ask why he wanted to stay at home that day.
Parents need to inquire about why their child is acting, saying, or behaving differently than their usual self. Andre seldom asks to stay home and enjoys going to school. It would’ve benefited both Andre and his mother if she took a few moments to ask what is the reason he doesn’t want to go to school. This is more difficult than it seems because many parents need to arrive to work on time or feel pressured by other obligations.
If you can, try to inquire at that moment, but if it isn’t possible, follow up later on. In Andre’s situation, if his parents followed-up, later on, they may discover that he’s being bullied at school because of his diabetes.
For additional parental advice and a deeper understanding of what your child is living with, please check out my new book: “Parenting Children with Diabetes.” On sale at amazon. https://amzn.to/2VHPccf
If you feel you need more help than can be found in my book, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to my website www.diabetictalks.com for more information on Diabetes-Focused Psychotherapy.
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE
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.