Tomorrow Michael will be going away to sleep away camp with his school. It will be his second time going away from home for 3 days and 2 nights so we know he will do great separating from us. It will, however, be his first time going as a child who also has now been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He is a little nervous as are Dad and I. You see, there are many things that are still firsts for us as parents of a child with Type 1 Diabetes as well as other co-morbid health challenges. For example, though Michael can eat all foods at the camp, due to having to watch his carbohydrate intake, I and the school nurse decided it would be a good idea to send most of our own food. Michael will be eating breakfasts there only. Also, the fact that I inquired if the school nurse was going was due to the fact that Michael has an underlying medical issue that we now have to watch out for. I never worried about this the last time around. Things have changed a lot in the two years since he last went with his school. Then there was no diabetes, no medication for ADHD, and no worries other than maybe Michael being homesick which he was not. His words when I picked him up were, “sign me up again the next time!” 🙂
I have to admit that I have been a little worried about how he will do at camp this year. Will his sugars be too high or too low? Will the nurse be able to stay on top of things as she will have other children to look after too? Most importantly, how will Michael handle not eating all the same food he once ate while his classmates eat everything? There is no one with allergies in the class, so I know he will feel alone. He has often said he wishes he was like his friends, who can eat everything. My heart breaks for him when he says this, though I tell him that eating healthy is important for everyone. He is handling diabetes like a champ, but I find myself feeling sad for him, sad for us that we have to carb count, and sad for the week we had last week where his sugar was low every night and he was so tired the next day, or the week before where it was high every night and there were more temper tantrums. There is a lot for us all to juggle, yet we still find time to laugh, live and enjoy things. Michael has a great spirit and I admire him for it.
I also know we are not alone. There are so many families whose children have physical and mental health issues. I know from the support groups I have joined, both virtually and the Moms I talk to in person whose child’s health challenges are just part of the package. So, how do these parents prepare for a trip away from home for their child to normalize things as much as possible? Here are some tips that have helped our family cope:
1) Prepare lists: Yes, this goes for everybody, but when your child needs to take medications at certain times and/or eat certain foods, making a list for yourself to follow to make sure you have everything will decrease stress for everyone.
2) Shop in advance for food, medication etc.: As much as possible, pick up medications, food that can be stored in advance before the last day he/she goes away. Pack it early too, so you will have less work to do in the end before they leave for their trip.
3) Remind your child they are still who they were before their health issues: I try to do this all the time with Michael and he is quite good too at remembering who he was before diabetes came into his life, and the fact he can still be active, eat foods he enjoys and hang out with friends. Granted there are limitations now, but remind your child that their life still is what it was before. As his end0chronologist says, “diabetes goes around your life, not your life around diabetes.”
4) Enlist your child’s help to advocate and take charge: If they are old enough, get your child to take charge of knowing when to take their medication, eat the foods that are good for them, and educate those around them about their medical condition. Remind them that doing this will help others learn how best to support people who are struggling with health issues, and empower the person themselves.
5) Talk to parents of other kids who face the same medical challenges: Ok, this one I haven’t done as often as I’d like to, but I plan to as Michael gets older and will want to go on more overnight trips without us. We know families who have children with Type 1 Diabetes, both virtually and in person. I plan to reach out and ask them about vacationing with diabetes solo or as a family. There are also camps for kids with diabetes and other health challenges. As your child gets more comfortable managing their disease, these are options so they do not feel alone in their health issues.
Exceptional Parents, how do you handle taking your child’s physical challenges on the road? What are your tips for family vacations or your child’s solo sleep away trips? Remember, don’t hold them back from experiencing traveling and exploring. As long as there is support for their medical issues when they are young and you are not there, or that you are there and know how to handle anything that could come up, your child deserves to experience all they did before they had other challenges. They are still a child, and need to experience that joy of growing up, being with peers and others outside of family, and the freedom to explore and learn more about themselves. Until next time.
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