Ask a Parent: Newly Diagnosed, Where to Start?

Q: My daughter was diagnosed just last week. My husband and I are devastated. We are going through a range of emotions in the midst of learning how we are going to deal with this disease. Where do we start?

A: You are not alone. It is very common for parents to have difficulty in adjusting emotionally upon diagnosis of a child. I can remember feeling overwhelmed and sad back in those early days and weeks after my daughter’s diagnosis. Frankly, I can’t imagine any parent feeling much else. But we quickly realized that our daughter was looking to us to lead the way down this new path, and we had to overcome our intense anxiety about making sound decisions about her daily care. Here are some of the things that helped us cope in our early weeks and months of living with diabetes.

  1. Join a local support group, meet other families, connect with your local JDRF chapter. I cannot overemphasize the importance of reaching out to other families. In addition to the reassurance you will receive that you are not alone, this is a vital way to learn other styles of diabetes management, helpful tips, and coping skills that you can use to create a successful, winning style that works for your child and family.
  2. Continually educate yourself about diabetes and stay up on current developments in research, products, advocacy, and daily care. We learned very quickly that education is empowering and helped put us in the driver’s seat.
  3. Make time for you. As one parent once told me, “It’s so exhausting to be a pancreas!” Parents deserve and need breaks from their child’s diabetes, and your child needs to build the confidence to spend some time away from you.
  4. Call upon friends and family for help when you need it. Whether it’s help with an errand to be run, a sibling to be transported, or a nap, you simply must have some time to recharge your battery. We found that friends and family are eager to help out during the beginning weeks and months. Acknowledging your needs and simplifying your life will allow you to integrate diabetes into your household so it will quickly become a “natural” course of things.
  5. Create an emotionally supportive family environment. Because diabetes affects many aspects of daily life, everyone in the family should be involved in supporting your daughter in her goal to maintain her good health. Encourage emotional expression so that meltdowns do not become the norm.
  6. View diabetes control in a much broader sense than good blood glucose management. There’s an oft-quoted saying, “Be a kid first, and a kid with diabetes second.” Don’t feel pressured to make each and every day “perfect” in terms of diabetes management. Some days go well and others don’t. Be able to accept this and keep your eye on the big picture: Is my child adjusting to this new life? Is she beginning to accept some of her daily care needs? Is she comfortable sharing her diagnosis with her “inner circle?” Is she resuming her regular activities?
  7. Acknowledge the challenges of living with diabetes. Many children and their families go through a grieving process upon diagnosis. Dismissing or minimizing these feelings isn’t recognizing this fact. So, to be most helpful to your daughter, simply listen, sympathize, and let her know that her feelings are natural and understandable. These compassionate and empathetic responses will help to open doors of healthy communication, whether it is about diabetes or other life issues.

Your daughter is really lucky to have you at her side during this important transition. While words don’t always come readily to your tongue, hugs and smiles are sometimes all we parents can muster, and fortunately, that is frequently plenty for a young child. I have no doubt that you and your family will look back on this time and marvel over how far you have come.

Have a question? Go to the JDRF Online Diabetes Support Team.