Parenting a Child With Diabetes

Childhood diabetes management is highly influenced by the behavior of the parents

(RxWiki News) Each year, more than 30,000 people, both children and adults, are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. When a person is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which often happens in childhood, an entire lifestyle change is needed.

Managing Type 1 diabetes requires testing of blood sugar levels and taking insulin shots multiple times a day, everyday.

The impact of the disease is felt throughout the whole family.

The family conflict that arises around a child’s diabetes can have an impact on the child’s overall health. A group of researchers set out to discover how family conflict and a diabetic child’s health are related.

"Parent as a team!"

Erica Sood, PhD, of DuPont Hospital for Children, assembled a team of pediatric psychiatrists, doctors and researchers to look at a specific kind of family conflict, disagreements on parenting practices between mothers and fathers, in a family dealing with Type 1 diabetes.

For the purpose of the study, 136 mothers and fathers of children with Type 1 diabetes reported on diabetes management, diabetes-specific family conflict and the amount of the father’s involvement in diabetes care. Blood tests were also done to measure the child’s blood sugar content. Families received a small compensation for completing the questionnaires.

Unlike most previous studies, this study focused on the father’s involvement as well as both parent involvement.

The researchers spoke with mothers and fathers separately, asking them about their beliefs on diabetes management.

The term “diabetes management” includes the topics of exercise, diet, blood testing, insulin shots, and managing blood sugar levels.

The study found that mothers and fathers often disagreed about how to best manage their child’s diabetes, and that these differences had a negative impact on the family. These families experienced more conflict around the topic of diabetes.

Interestingly, the study showed that arguments about diabetes management were more strongly linked to the overall “big picture”, rather than to the small details. If parents disagreed about overall management (i.e. “How things were going overall”) more conflict was likely than if they disagreed about smaller, day-to-day details.

The study also found that fathers play a big role in a child’s ability to manage blood sugar levels.

Fathers who were less involved in either communicating with mothers or in actually helping out with the diabetes management had children who were less able to control their blood sugar levels.

In fact, parent disagreements combined with the lack of a father’s involvement actually predicted poor blood sugar control.

In a child with Type 1 diabetes, poor blood sugar control can be a life threatening issue.

The study concludes that in a family with Type 1 diabetes, the overall health of the child depends upon the involvement of both parents, and that the parents provide consistent information and help in managing the child’s diabetes.

This article was published online in July in the Journal of Health Psychology. The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
September 12, 2012