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Your Child has Type 2 Diabetes: What’s a Parent to Do?

Practical advice for parents to consider after a child has been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

By Dr. Stephanie Sisley, pediatric endocrinologist at Texas Children’s Hospital

When an endocrinologist sees a patient for a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, there is often considerable stress felt between the parent and child. Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to a child’s body weight and in some cases can be reversed with weight loss. This is unlike type 1 diabetes where the body attacks itself and destroys the insulin producing cells causing an irreversible diabetes.

For many patients and families, they have heard frequent lectures from their doctors regarding healthy weight and lifestyle behaviors. Many have also tried weight-loss strategies, but have been unable to make long-lasting changes. Sometimes the parent has been trying to institute healthy lifestyle changes but another family member (i.e. a grandparent or other parent) offers unhealthy choices frequently. Or, the child themselves knowingly makes unhealthy choices at school or with friends. All of these situations can lead to frequent arguments and stress over food-related choices between parents and their kids.

Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is scary for many parents, and rightly so. Most people know of a diabetic who had significant medical problems, like kidney failure or stroke. Since the most important treatment of type 2 diabetes is a healthy lifestyle and weight loss, a diabetes diagnosis may seem to some parents like a recipe for family strife and constant nagging. So what is a parent to do?

First, understand your role. A parent’s job is to provide a healthy home – not to control what a teenager puts into their mouth. Any parent knows you cannot “make” a child eat something. The threats and arguments over reducing portions or choosing healthier options is probably not worth the energy.

The solution – provide only the options you want consumed. For instance, if large portions are a problem in your house, make less food. If it isn’t cooked, it can’t be eaten. If choosing healthy snack options are a problem, only provide healthy options. This is especially difficult for families with small children who “need” different snack options. Truthfully, it is extremely difficult for a diabetic patient to not eat the snacks provided for their siblings (or even other adults). While the other siblings may request juice or unhealthy snacks, they won’t be harmed by those things being absent from the house. Water or milk are very healthy drink options. Cheese, yogurt, veggies and fresh fruit are excellent snacks for anyone in the house. Understandably, you may have to let the complaints about how there is “no food” in the home fall on your deaf ears for a time. The truth is that a teenager won’t be successful at weight loss until the changes become entire household changes.

Second, let go of the guilt. Regardless of what decisions/factors you think have brought your child to this point, blaming yourself or your child doesn’t help the family move forward. I have seen many parents blame themselves because they work long hours and can’t be around as much as they would like. There is utility in determining what isn’t working well in your home and what needs to be changed, but the most important thing is to make better decisions in the future. Changing how you grocery shop and what activities you do together as a family are things that can be changed today.

Hopefully, over time, your relationship with your children will be less about food and more about the two of you.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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