Summary: This excerpt from the book Kids First, Diabetes Second is from the “All in the Family” chapter. It’s important to assure and inform siblings when it comes to type 1 diabetes and also make sure they don’t feel left out.
Don’t Forget the Siblings
When Q was diagnosed, her brother R was just shy of his first birthday. He will never remember her before she had diabetes. He is used to the daily care she receives, including all the blood sugar checks and insulin pump changes. He knows about all the work that goes into putting a meal on the table and knowing how much insulin to give her for it. For him, it’s part of our family life.
But that’s not to say that it doesn’t affect him. Because diabetes management takes so much of your time and focus, it’s easy for the non-diabetic child to feel left out or deprived of your time. What you don’t want is for the other child to feel neglected and to start acting out at home or school as a way to get your attention.
You may be able to find some ways to involve the other child in the daily diabetes routine, though you don’t want it to become a burden or something to worry about. Q never had a bedtime snack before she was diagnosed, and we probably wouldn’t have offered it to R. But he likes to sit at the table with her and have a bedtime snack, as well. Although we have a stash of juice boxes, Smarties, and glucose tablets that are for treating blood sugar only, he sometimes asks for a juice box, a roll of Smarties, or even a glucose tablet when Q gets one. Sometimes I indulge him.
If you have an incentive chart for your child with diabetes, say as a reward for getting injections or changing her insulin pump site, think of something your other child could do to earn stickers or other incentives. This praise will make him feel like he’s accomplishing something, too.
The non-diabetic sibling might feel lost in the commotion, so it’s a good idea to spend some one-on-one time with him or her. Maybe take turns taking non-diabetic siblings to a movie, the park, or the local children’s museum to provide some alone time—time where there is absolutely no diabetes care taking your attention. Make them your focus for those few hours.
R is still too young to understand a lot of the medical aspects of diabetes and why his sister has it, but he has mentioned several times that he wishes he had diabetes like Q. While I wanted to say “No, no you don’t,” I also don’t want either child to feel like it’s something to be jealous of or that Q is somehow deficient. I think the best thing I can do is talk with him about his feelings and try to understand where he is coming from. I will say that one of the bedtime stories we have read over and over is Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Coco and Goofy’s Goofy Day in which their friend Coco, who has type 1 diabetes, comes to his birthday party. R always talks about the bad choices that Goofy makes at the party. Interestingly, he always wants me to read the Q&A at the end of the book, which addresses why Coco needs to check her blood sugar and what she carries in her supply bag. I think reading this story repeatedly helps him come to terms with it in an age-appropriate way. Or maybe he just really likes Mickey Mouse books.
My son isn’t old enough yet to worry about his sister’s diabetes. But I am sure there will come a time when he will begin to ask if he, too, may develop diabetes or he may become fearful that his sister could become sick or even die. When he begins to have questions or fears, we will talk with him in age-appropriate terms to assure him that he doesn’t need to worry because as his mom and dad, we will always do our best to take care of the both of them and help them to be as healthy as they can be
If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can read more on the Kids First, Diabetes Second book page. It’s available widely in print and as an eBook from book sellers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and IndieBound. And if you do read it and find it to be a valuable resource, I would greatly appreciate if you could write a review on any of the online retail sites. Thanks!
Please remember that I never give medical advice. Ask your endocrinologist or pediatrician for advice about your own child. Make your own informed decisions for your own child.