By: Jean Betschart
Does your child have diabetes? Do you communicate well with him or her?
Good communication is important for both you and your child. As a parent, you communicate your concern about your child’s health and well being, your interest in his or her life and your expectations of him or her.
Hopefully, you also communicate consequences (and follow up on them) when your expectations are not met.
Your child, on the other hand, communicates information about his or her day—school, activities, fun, friends, problems, concerns—and also conveys his or her need for direction. One key to good communication is that your child feels comfortable turning to you.
Diabetes Adds a New Ingredient to the Mix
Details are part of the spectrum of issues requiring good communication, and they are vital to good diabetes control.
The blood glucose control of children and teens whose parents are involved in their child’s diabetes management is usually better than that of children whose parents who are not so involved. Communicating with openness and trust plays a big part.
With a Little Bit of Effort It Will Work Out
Communication between parents and kids can be difficult and awkward at times, and time-consuming at best. But it is an effort that will pay off tremendously in the long run.
Eight Tips for Better Communication
Here are some tips that can enhance your communication in general and concerning diabetes, specifically:
1. Take Time to Communicate
When everyone is too busy with their own activities and agendas, the message is, “I am too busy to be interested.”
Diabetes tip: Take time to validate the memory in your child’s meter. This shows your child, “I care about this enough to check it. It is important that this be done properly. I care about your blood glucose numbers because I care enormously about your health.”
2. Respect Your Child’s Communication Patterns
Your child may not be attuned to your communicating patterns. Trying to talk to your teen over breakfast may result in monosyllable answers, but if you catch him right after school while he is eating a snack, you may find a talkative youngster.
Diabetes tip: Having a conversation while or just after your child has a low blood glucose will not be productive.
3. Give Your Child Your Full Attention
A conversation might arise spontaneously when you are working or focusing on something else. By putting aside your activities to listen to your child, you send the message, “You and what you are telling me are more important to me than what I am doing.”
Diabetes tip: Set aside what you are doing to assist with an injection, pump-site change, or to consult about carbohydrates, for example. Even though your child may be able to do it herself, she is saying, “I want you with me on this. Please show me you care.” Listen carefully to what your child is asking you to do or not to do for their diabetes care.
4. Sit Down With Your Child When You Are Talking
Good communication is more likely when people are on the same eye level. So get down and sit on the floor with him rather than sitting on a chair or standing above him.
Diabetes tip: You may want to have a certain place in your home designated as the injection space. Sit with your child at eye level so that he or she won’t feel overpowered. After giving the injection, hug your child and be sure to talk about it if he or she desires. You might say, “So, how was that shot? Did we do okay?”
5. Remember to Hear What is Not Said
Sometimes “listening between the lines” is essential.
Diabetes tip: Reassure your child that even though you are very concerned about her health, especially her diabetes, you have every expectation that she will live a full and long life.
6. Plant Yourself in Your Child’s World
Create a favorable environment for opportunities of communication to arise. Knock on your teen’s closed door and ask if you can come in; sit on the bed and chat. See the view from your kid’s tree house, or favorite swing or play place. When you enter your child’s space, where he or she is comfortable, you are likely to learn something new.
7. Ask Questions
Even though you may get only short answers or no answers at all, (“Where are you going?” “Out.” “What are you doing?” “Nothing”) express an interest in your child. She will know you care and may just decide to talk when she is ready. Later, she may say, “Mom, I’m going over to Julie’s and we’re going swimming.”
Diabetes tip: Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your child’s diabetes care. You may feel as though you are nagging (and maybe you are), but your child will learn that the issue is important to you and start to mentally review the list himself. (“Do I have my glucose tabs? My meter? My strips? Syringe, insulin and/or pump supplies?”) Or you might ask your child, “What bothers you most about having diabetes? How can I help to make things better for you?” Some of the answers you’ll get might surprise you!
8. Help Your Child Understand Why You Are Asking
“I need to ask this question because I love you so much and need to know that you are safe. Please tell me, what you would do if you were out with your friends and they decided to drink alcohol?” Teens don’t like to be monitored and may push the envelope to the extremes because they are testing to see how much you care and what you’re going to do. Don’t give in.
Diabetes tip: Review your expectations with your teen, and discuss how he or she can respond to some hypothetical situations involving peer pressure. If your child has a plan and knows your expectations ahead of time, he or she will be much less likely to engage in risky behavior. “What are you going to do when everyone is eating cake, ice cream and candy at the all-night bowling party? What do you think would be a good way to approach it?” “Well, I don’t think ignoring your diabetes is an acceptable approach. Try again!” “Yes, that might work, if you monitor at midnight and take some extra insulin. But I think you should check again in two hours for sure.”