Angry about Diabetes? “Tell Me More”

When your child articulates anger about diabetes, a good response might be, “Tell me more.”  Be thankful that he/she is able to express that emotion to you, rather than bottle it up inside.

Parents of the PEP Squad are on Facebook at all hours of the day and night empowering each other with experience, wisdom, guidance and comfort.  One concerned mom posted this question recently:

There is an underlying theme of anger/frustration regarding having T1D that comes out of my son more than once in a while.  I feel it is not far from his thoughts all the time.  It might just take a BG check or a POD change or counting carbs to ignite the fire and he’ll start expressing his disdain.  So…how do we get him past the point of anger/frustration to acceptance? 

Dozens of responses instantly populated the News Feed.  Since it seems to be a hot topic that most families affected by diabetes come up against at some point, we asked Dr. Wendy Satin Rapaport, the clinical psychologist who mentors the group, to provide some professional advice.

According to Dr. Rapaport:
Anger is both necessary and important; it’s how we move forward.  It is part of the grieving process of the diabetes diagnosis.  But it also rears its head during different milestones in growing up and in our daily lives when we place too much emphasis on outcome instead of effort.  For example, a parent’s response of, “How on earth did you get that number,” is quite different than, “So glad you tested.”

I believe parents have more skills than they even realize.  Think about how you might teach a child who is angry to move forward…IF they didn’t have diabetes.  The most important words we might use with our children who are angry are, “Tell me more.”  It takes courage to hear it and to say it because all of us are wrapped up with emotional responses to diabetes.  As a parent, you’re grieving and dealing with anger, as well.

That’s why I like to think in terms of prevention, prevention, prevention.  Your diabetes healthcare team should include someone who is skilled in health psychology.  This field includes: the recognition of grief as response to the diagnosis—expanding coping mechanisms such as self-awareness, honoring and accepting your feelings, positive “self-talk;” expression through conversation, counseling, writing ,music and sports; social competence skills—dealing with nagging, criticism, questions or what feels like insults.  We need a village of support.

Sometimes it takes retraining and the understanding of letting go of perfection.  Adolescence, particularly during puberty, has many changes because of growth and hormones that may impact the outcome of blood sugars.  Simply doing what you did before no longer guarantees a predictable number.  For instance, when reacting to a blood sugar of 300, the young person and the parents must learn to say, “It’s information, not an indictment or judgment.  I will take charge and get the blood sugar down.  Later when I’m feeling better, I will think about whether there was anything I might have done differently.  I’m a good person who has a 300 blood sugar.”

And finally, let me recommend self-compassion, where we are: human not perfect, kind to ourselves, and mindful not reactive (according to psychologist Kristen Neff).  It’s the best medicine for all of us. 

Don’t be afraid of anger. “Tell me more.”  Don’t shut down anger.  “Tell me more.”  Feel glad (that’s a paradox!) that your child feels safe to express it.  It can be much more of a danger when it goes underground and is not dealt with.  Let the answers come from your child.  It is your job to listen, and if they allow, hug!  So, tell me more.

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