How to Cope with Emotional Issues in Children with Diabetes

Diabetes is enough of a problem in and of itself, particularly for young children. But the stress of day-to-day treatment routines, concerns about diabetes symptoms getting progressively worse in the future, and the knowledge that he or she is different from other children may cause even more problems for your child in the form of depression, anxiety, and the inability to cope with the disease properly. Emotional issues that are directly linked to diabetes are known as diabetic distress.

Only about 14.3% of children without diabetes will experience depression, compared to about 15-25% of those with type 1 diabetes. About 13-17% of children with diabetes will develop anxiety.

These diabetic distresses are a particularly scary symptom of diabetes because they often lead to suboptimal care. A child with depression will often stop caring about the health of his or her body and, if allowed, will let his or her diabetes progress without proper treatment. Depression also lowers a child’s feeling of being in control of his or her condition, leading to a decline in health and even worsening depression.

Lonely Child -Children's sad face

Especially if your child’s diabetes is not well-controlled (but even if it is), your child may exhibit aggressive behaviors when high or low. Highs can make a kid more irritable because their body doesn’t feel good, and lows can cause the brain not to be able to control aggression very well. This doesn’t mean you should stop disciplining your child for bad behavior, but it does mean your kid might need a little bit of extra patience when their blood sugar is acting up.

It also means that when you decide to talk to your child about their mood and behavior, the best time is when their blood sugar is under control.

Yes, we know this is not a discussion you want to have with your child, but it is an important one. First of all, your child needs to know that you have noticed their behavior and that you care about them. Second of all, your child may have no idea that their mood has anything to do with diabetes. Remind them that proper treatment of their diabetes might make them feel better. Most importantly, remind your children that it is okay (even cool) to be different. Other children’s curiosity about diabetes could be a route to making friends instead of a reason to feel ostracized.

Portrait of a sad child looking out the window. Toning photo.

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Think your child might be struggling with depression or another form of diabetic distress? Watch out for classic depression symptoms such as distractibility, changes in appetite, decreased enjoyment of regular activities, mention of suicide, sleep disturbances, and general sadness. In young children, symptoms can also include tantrums, irritability, stomachaches, headaches, and aggressive outbursts. Of course, your child will be irritable and throw tantrums from time to time even if not depressed, but if these episodes are more frequent or more intense than usual, it could be a cause for concern.

If you’re worried that your child’s emotional issues might be getting serious, seek medical advice.

Depression can be problematic for adults too and may even be a risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Find out more here.

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