How To Handle Diabetes-Related Bullying | Cornerstones4Care®

How to Stop Bullies

Some kids think it’s fun to tease someone who is different. Anyone can be a target. Most times, it’s not meant to be cruel. But it can be. At a certain point, it stops being harmless. Sometimes, children with type 1 diabetes become targets for bullying because their diabetes seems to make them “different” from their peers.   

Diabetes-related bullying can affect diabetes self-management. When children are bullied about their medical condition, it creates more stress, which can make it harder to manage their type 1 diabetes. For example, children may respond by trying not to take medicine when they need to or by not following recommended meal and physical activity plans because they are afraid their classmates will see.  

What can children, parents, and teachers do?

  • Explain to children that being bullied is not their fault and they do not deserve it. Encourage children being bullied to seek help from adults  
  • Try to keep diabetes-related bullying from affecting diabetes self-care. Whether the bullying is sparked by a classmate seeing a child taking medicine, doing regular blood sugar checks, or eating a healthy snack or lunch, children shouldn’t have to stop healthy habits because of teasing by their peers 

Children may experience the following:

  • Taunting by their classmates about behavior they see as different, such as the need for blood sugar checks, taking medicine, or not being able to eat a certain food at lunch if it isn’t in their meal plan 
  • Teasing or name calling, physical attacks, or Internet harassment. A child who has diabetes may be seen as having a physical weakness by a bully. On the other hand, research shows that some children with disabilities or special needs may turn to bullying others 

Teachers may not be trained how to deal with situations that can happen with students who have special health needs. Often, while they mean well, they may treat children with type 1 diabetes differently than their classmates. This may have the negative effect of setting apart the child with diabetes, potentially reinforcing that child’s differences and sometimes creating feelings of jealousy because the child with diabetes is getting more attention than his or her peers.  

It’s important to understand what children who are being bullied are going through. Bullying can create stress that can add to their feeling lonely and anxious, which can impact their emotional and physical health. A range of reactions to this situation can result that may slow down or impair children’s social, educational, and emotional development: 

  • Children may begin to change how they manage their diabetes for fear of being teased and may resist testing their blood sugar as often as they need to or delay taking medicine
  • Children may begin to believe negative comments and show signs of becoming anxious or depressed  
  • Children may avoid joining in social events and miss out on positive group activities and other experiences  
  • Bullied children may begin to bully younger children or other classmates they see as weaker, as a learned response to the treatment they have received

Know the long-term effects of diabetes-related bullying

Diabetes-related bullying is often not a one-time event in the locker room or lunch room. More likely, diabetes-related bullying is a series of little things repeated over time that add up and chip away at a child’s self-esteem. That can mean teasing, Internet bullying, or fighting not just once, but many times. It’s important to also know what long-term diabetes-related bullying can do: It can create physical, mental, and emotional harm that can last well into adulthood.  

  • Children may suffer setbacks in managing their diabetes if they stop taking care of what they need to do each day  
  • Since children may fall behind both in their studies and in their social and emotional progress, they may have behavior problems
  • Being the object of violence may hurt a child’s ability to form healthy relationships with others as they get older 
  • Children may have a greater risk for depression and social anxiety with continued bullying about their diabetes

Turning it around

On a more positive note, some children may show a lot of strength when they are faced with diabetes-related bullying. Having a support system at home, within their neighborhood, and from their diabetes care team can be a great help.

If a child has been bullied on just one school day, that’s everyone’s cue to take action. It’s necessary to stop bullying behavior right away to prevent it from growing. Here are clear steps that you can take as a parent and/or caregiver:

  • Be supportive and encouraging. Ask your child to talk freely about what happened at school. Make this a daily event. Tell him or her, “Don’t blame yourself.” Explain why diabetes-related bullying may occur. Make sure your child knows you are listening and are behind him or her
  • Talk with your child’s teachers to be sure they are aware and see if steps can be taken to stop the problem immediately 
  • Put all concerns in writing. Contact the school principal or school district and ask them to start a bullying prevention program or take similar action 
  • Check in with the teachers and the school to make sure your child doesn’t begin bullying other younger, weaker, or “different” students at school. Sadly, children often learn how to bully by being bullied themselves. If so, this aggressive behavior will need to be modified  
  • Make sure that your child doesn’t stop taking care of his or her health needs, such as avoiding blood sugar checks or taking medicine. If this does happen, try to be supportive and not blame your child for acting fearfully or in self-defense. Just emphasize the importance of staying with his or her diabetes care plan 

For additional support and advocacy, contact the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-342-2383.

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