Effective Communications Reaps Rewards for Parents and Kids with Diabetes

What would you say if your child with diabetes told you there is no way he will wear his diabetes alert bracelet in public?

Miami, FL (May 2009) — The skills involved in diabetes care are the same skills used to make a marriage work or to raise a healthy family. Remember that if one person makes the conscious choice to practice good communication, there will eventually be a change in how the other person responds or interacts too. Be persistent.

Sometimes the patterns of poor interaction are so ingrained that when you change, the receiving party cannot really hear you at first.

Why bother?

You will be relieved that you have expressed your feelings, made your point, and not lost your temper or stayed depressed.

You create the opportunity for the other person to feel better, be closer to you, and best of all, talk to you in a way that makes you feel more comfortable too. And, as a bonus, better communication and closeness within families not only feels good emotionally but has a profound effect on blood glucose control.

Effective communication may not be easy … at first. You must practice, practice, practice. First you recognize the feelings. Then you express them. Then you validate the feelings. And listen, listen, listen. Put compassion in the mix for yourself and others and presto, you have better feelings, interactions and even better diabetes care.

Here’s an example of how a common issue may be handled:

Your child with diabetes, age 12 and entering a new school, tells you there is no way he will wear his diabetes alert bracelet in public.

Before you answer, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and give yourself time to become aware of all the feelings this brings up in you. Some possible responses might be: 

“Yes you will! I am the parent here. I happen to know best.” This is natural and easy to say. It is, however, aggressive and not very effective. You may be trying to wield power that you don’t actually have. As your child grows up, you have less and less influence over what he/she does. You want to create in your child the ability to think and make decisions when you are not there. 

“You know what can happen to you if you don’t.” Intimidation may work for a while, but it also creates anxiety and eventually backfires. 

“I’m glad that you are telling me what your plans are. Your openness with me on these personal matters is important.” This is a positive assertion, taking time to reinforce what you are pleased about, that is, your child’s communication with you. It can open a dialogue because you have shown respect for your child. After you do some good listening, it will be time to voice your opinion. 

“What feelings brought you to this decision? Dad and I would like to understand what you are thinking and feeling.” This assertive request effectively elicits information so that you can respond to your child’s real concerns rather than responding to your best guess about his/her motives. (No mind-reading allowed!) By doing this you can avoid the lecturing posture, which is guaranteed to bring about the famous eyeball rolls, blank stares, or cries of “Oh Mom (or Dad).”

The most important reason to communicate as well as you can is that your children are listening to you. You are their role models. It is both exciting and frightening that your children listen so closely and will copy or rebel against your view of diabetes. The conversations that your children hear will be the same ones they play over in their heads and will be similar to the conversations they have with you.

Remember as you try new communication skills, that it takes patience to stick with them and to see a difference. You must stand your ground, and you may need to repeat your new endeavors. Keep your sense of humor. Even as you become more skillful in communicating, don’t be thrown off by old behaviors….yours or anyone else’s. * 

*Adapted from “When Diabetes Hits Home….The Whole Family’s Guide to Emotional Health” by Wendy Satin Rapaport, LCSW, PsyD.

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