Navigating burnout in children with diabetes

Parents, be aware your child may unexpectedly choose to ignore their diabetes because they feel burned out and just want to be like their peers.

Two preschool aged children sitting together and smiling.
Free Images/Anissa Thompson.

A child living with diabetes knows the daily intentional effort it takes to monitor their food and carbohydrate intake, blood sugar highs and lows, medications and even physical activity. That is a lot to navigate for a child and teen who just wants to be like their peers. All the daily monitoring can lead to diabetic burnout, and as a parent or guardian, you play an important and supportive role in helping your child navigate their feelings and strategies in order to get back on track with their diabetic care plan.

A chronic condition like diabetes does not just go away. Ignoring the self-care behaviors necessary to manage diabetes can lead to serious complications, especially if these behaviors go on for quite a while. A child or teen can feel worn out from the constant tasks that come with having diabetes. Wanting to ignore the disease because they feel burned out is a common feeling.

So what can you do to help and not harm the situation? First, understand that a childhood chronic disease conjures up lots of emotions, and when you add in the physical changes associated adolescence (e.g., increased hormones during puberty) you need be extra patient and understanding with your child.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following strategies to prevent and work through diabetic burnout"

  1. Get your child’s team involved. This includes their primary care doctor, eye doctor, podiatrist, endocrinologist, diabetes educator, dietitian and family to keep them motivated and share new ideas and strategies.
  2. Perfection is not necessary. Perfect blood sugar management is not necessary. Help them take small steps to lower their A1c.
  3. Connect with people who understand what you and your child are going through. The American Diabetes Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators both have diabetes community pages to connect with others that share your experience.

Striving for normal glucose readings every day, all day can be too lofty a goal, so stressing less about perfect blood sugar readings can go a long way in helping to motivate your child and reverse burnout. As parents, you need to recognize if you are adding to the stress by having too high expectations for perfect glucose readings and perfect food choices. Even after doing everything right, glucose readings can fall outside of the normal range. Parents should be proactive to think ahead about a healthy way to respond to your child when this happens.

Children need to be able to speak open and honestly about their feelings and frustrations with someone, which may mean you, a counselor or someone else with diabetes. When a child feels heard and understood, they feel supported. As a child continues to learn, understand and accept their chronic condition and the necessity to live a healthy life, they feel empowered. Just be aware that emotions ebb and flow through the ages and stages of development. Focus on the big picture rather than small periods of time.

As a parent helping to manage your child’s diabetes, you will undoubtedly also have times when you feel tired or even burned out yourself. Review the strategies listed above and see if they can apply to you as well. Michigan State University Extension also provides programs on diabetes self-management that help adults and caregivers learn beneficial self-management skills to help navigate the journey of caring for a loved with a chronic condition. Education and support from others also living with chronic conditions can provide real avenues for growth to keep the family functioning well. 

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