My son’s face said it all. I looked away, feeling guilty. I had just yelled at him while trying to get him to do a chore. Fifteen minutes of cajoling, reasoning, and arguing had gotten nowhere and I had lost my temper. Now, staring at his tear-stained face, I tried to look for signs of low or high blood sugar, but I couldn’t find a hint of either. I checked him anyway; he was low. A deep shame spread over me.
This scenario played itself out almost weekly. It has been 6 years since my son was diagnosed with Type 1, and while my understanding of the disease has improved, my frustration has grown. I have always felt that diabetes shouldn’t excuse a child’s misbehavior or failure to be responsible, but it is so difficult to determine where diabetes ends and discipline begins.
It took me a long time to make the connection between blood sugar levels and behavior. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time of his diagnosis, and he was, and is, my only child. It was my first time dealing with a child’s behaviors at any age, and diabetes added a layer of complexity to every situation. Once I started to get a better understanding of the disease, life smoothed out.
Once school started, though, our life became more fast paced, making it harder to always keep perfect control of blood sugar levels. Now we juggle after-school activities, homework, projects, and playdates. Just like a diabetes management plan should be tailored for each child, each parent must decide how to separate their child’s blood sugar swings from behavior. It’s hard for me sometimes to figure if my son’s behavior is amplified by blood sugar swings or just an eight-year-old boy acting out.
I don’t want my child to use diabetes as an excuse for bad behavior, but quite a few times I have doled out a punishment only to realize his numbers were way off. When that happens, I’m stuck in a moral quandary. Do I take the punishment back or just stick to my word? A couple of times I did take it back only to be accused of flip-flopping the next time something similar came up. Each case has been different and there are no right answers.
Through trial and error, I have come up with a mental checklist to navigate these situations. I grab his meter at the first sign of irritability or defiance. If the blood sugars are good, we address the behavior. If the sugars are too high or low, we treat it as such and talk about the behavior when it settles. Often, he will come and initiate the conversation once he starts to feel better. If the blood sugars are borderline high or low, we have the discussion while we treat it.
Dealing with the day to day nuances of childhood behavior is trying enough. Throw in diabetes, and it is a rollercoaster of emotions. Every day I remind myself that I will never truly understand how it feels to grow up with diabetes, so often times disciplining him means making sure I also maintain an inner discipline. Keeping calm and trying to figure out if there is an underlying cause to misbehavior has helped so much.
Hopefully, I will have this down before he hits puberty.
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