A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can affect your entire family. We offer tips and strategies to help you explain what diabetes means to worried siblings, and avoid diabetes taking the focus from family life.
How siblings may be feeling
- Left out because the sudden focus is on the child with diabetes – Why all the fuss? Why do we have to rush home for injections? Why do we have to worry about food all the time?
- That their brother or sister is the favourite. If they thought this prior to the diagnosis, diabetes may add to the problem.
- That they are loved less and pushed to one side in favour of the child with diabetes.
- Worried that diabetes is catching or that their brother or sister with diabetes might die.
- Guilty and believe that something they have done has given their brother or sister diabetes – such as breaking a toy or not sharing. They may have nightmares, suddenly start wetting the bed or cling to you.
- Worried that they might get diabetes.
- Overwhelmed and responsible for their sibling.
- Resentful that their sibling with diabetes gets ‘special treats’ eg. Jelly beans when they are having a hypo or their own ‘special food’
- Confused about diabetes – what it is and how to look after it. These concerns may be displayed in varying behaviours by siblings such as: being withdrawn or sad; anger / aggressive behaviour; attention seeking behaviour; regressing to behaviours of a younger child.
Strategies to support siblings
- Try to keep things as normal as you can and avoid diabetes taking over family life.
- Try and spend some special time alone with your child without diabetes, doing something fun and that they really enjoy.
- Be consistent in the way you discipline all your children.
- Explain diabetes in simple terms to siblings. They need to know what is happening and feel involved. Involving siblings in the initial diabetes education may help.
- Don’t expect siblings to always be responsible for their brother or sisters diabetes. It can overwhelm them and make them feel guilty if anything goes wrong.
- Make sure that the whole family eats the same healthy foods, not just the child with diabetes and that treats are for everyone. Avoid using ‘treats’ such as jelly beans for hypo treatment, opt for juice instead.
Families often find that they have become closer because of diabetes, so problems can be sorted out with patience and understanding.
Talk to your diabetes team if you are concerned about a sibling, they may refer them to a social worker or psychologist. Some services may offer “Sibling Days” for brothers and sisters of children with diabetes, these are usually small group education and support days.