TO love and care for a child is one thing – to take good care of a child with diabetes is quite another. Often these goals seem to contradict each other, yet they need not do so.
This is the view of Rosemary Flynn, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE). She says that one cannot step away from the psychological repercussions of a challenging, never-ending condition that needs constant management.
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She says that an understanding of the needs and emotions of children at various stages of development can help us to understand a child’s specific needs and emotions.
“This is particularly true for children between birth and 12 years old. Diabetes management in adolescence needs to be tackled very differently,” she says.
“Teenagers have a lot to deal with, just being teenagers. When diabetes is added to the process, they need both resilience and resourcefulness to manage successfully. Emotional turmoil at times is inevitable.”
How well the body copes with the diabetes is strongly linked to how the child relates to others. Changing emotions have the potential to make blood glucose levels unstable.
“Focusing only on the physical aspects of the diabetes will never be sufficient to ensure a well-balanced and healthy child who is at peace with managing his or her diabetes.”
Ms Flynn offers some crucial insights for parents raising a child with diabetes:
* Initiative and self-control develop progressively with maturity and are often influenced by parenting style. Both initiative and self-control will be needed to enable the child to negotiate his or her diabetes.
* For children to make the right choices depends on values such as honesty, success, achievement, self-reliance and being co-operative. Having a well-integrated conscience is the key to developing these values.
* Parenting that is flexible but firm, works well in all families. Responsibility is gradually given to the children as they grow. Children react better when they have clear limits, expectations and rules which adapt as they move into their teenage years.
* While siblings can play a significant role they can also take a great deal of strain. Parents should find a balance in the way they handle their children.
* Research has found that children cope with anxiety either by avoiding management altogether or by becoming so frenetic in their approach that their stress levels become intolerable. In either case, control of diabetes is lost. Coping with diabetes is always a family affair.
* Another deterrent to good management is anger. “Anger gives rise to a chemical response in the body and unfortunately for the child with diabetes, this response means that the child develops high blood sugars,” she says.
* Depression takes away any motivation to succeed, so handling depression is a necessity. Support groups and camps for children with diabetes provide a sense of community, particularly when they can see that other children handle their diabetes well.
“Children with diabetes have to learn a lifestyle that promotes their health and enables them to function in the best way possible.
This lifestyle includes eating foods that are healthy, doing some exercise and taking medication. However, they may still falter.
It is important for parents to provide guidance on how to change and encouragement to sustain the positive changes they make,” Ms Flynn concludes.
(Information from the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology)
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