Surviving Secondary: My 7 Tips to Help You Help Your Teen 

As a kid, summer is honestly one of the best things ever invented! No school, no homework, no uniform and tons of fun. Instead you get to enjoy days out all over the place, sleepovers with your besties and experience what feels like absolute freedom in comparison to the long and arduous days you’re used to with school. It’s so long too, at 11 years old it feel like it goes on forever. 

But sadly it doesn’t. September is right around the corner. School again. For almost every 11 year old September means secondary school. It’s genuinely one of the scariest experiences in your child’s life, because it’s the first big change (that they’ll remember)! So diabetes just makes it that little bit harder, let’s be honest here though – when does diabetes make anything easier?!

So here are my 7 tips and tricks to help your 11 year old survive their first few months at secondary and how to help you keep your sanity intact in the meantime……

Tip #1: Remember socialising is higher in priorities than blood sugars. 

Blood sugars may well be on your mind 24/7 when they start secondary. You’ll probably fret about whether they tested before their meal, whether they’re giving insulin every hour (or at least testing that frequently and giving insulin when appropriate to) with every high blood sugar and you’ll definitely wonder if they’ve had hypos posing a problem to them. 

But I can guarantee that is not what was going through my mind in my first week. Or most weeks actually. I just wanted to make sure I was making friends, trying to be likeable and funny and mix with newfound peers. I was more concerned about finishing my food quick enough to keep up with my friends when they left the table to go and wander round, not whether I’d tested and given insulin. 

Diabetes simply won’t be at the front of your 11 year olds mind. Yeah they may be a bit worried about finding their feet with the independence of managing T1 themselves to begin with, but they’ll be way more concerned about their social lives for the majority of the time so don’t forget that!

Tip #2: Introducing it to friends is hard. 

Telling other people that you have a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week chronic medical condition that you have to manage yourself and that it has a name with connotations of obesity, sweets and self infliction is honestly one of the hardest things. Actually saying it is the easy part, the hard part is not knowing what their reaction will be and not knowing whether they’ll just completely write you off as a friend because you’re ‘defective’. But one way or another people will find out or at least notice something is up, so I personally think it is better to tell people. It’s how you go about doing that though. 

I ask one thing of you as a parent –  don’t demand or press that they do it a certain way! Some people like to do classroom talks or assemblies to tell everyone for safety reasons, some people like to just tell peers randomly. Others prefer to wait until it comes up in conversation or hide it completely. However you like to do it, remember that actually when it comes to secondary school it’s not your choice – it’s your child’s. You can have meetings with their teachers so that staff are aware and give them ideas on how to approach the subject but when it comes to social circles it’s their choice. The best thing you can do is support them through it and ask them how it went. 

Try not to worry about this because when they find the people they want to tell and feel ready, they’ll do it. Trust your child, they know how they feel about it. 

Tip #3: Make it a part of who they are.

In some respects with this, secondary school is much easier than primary. Generally schools will let you buy your own bag, carry your own books, wear a watch or even a bracelet etc. So incorporating your medical kit into your uniform becomes much easier, because you have your belongings on you anyway!

But I think the important thing is to make it not stand out, because it’s easier to go and show someone your medical bracket or reveal that in your makeup bag is a test kit and not mascara rather than try and hide a clinical looking kit bag with needles or wear a medical band that actually isn’t your style of jewellery normally. 

So make it all not stand-outish to begin with. Many don’t like diabetes being a part of who they are but at least give them options. They’ll find out how they like to keep their kit and show others their diabetes themselves, whether that’s subtly or just being open with their kit. 

Tip #4: Ask your child how their day went before their bloods. 

I have written about this before….. As I said earlier in this post diabetes may be at the forefront of your mind but it won’t be at the forefront of your kid’s. And if it is at the forefront of their mind they really don’t want it there. 

So when they get in the car after a long day at school (throughout secondary – doesn’t matter what year group they are this will always apply!) ask them how their day went. How did they do on their test last week? Did they have fun in P.E? Have they made any arrangements to see friends soon or would they like to? Did mrs so and so have her baby yet? What’s the latest gossip, who’s dating who now?

You know what’s not in that list? Diabetes. And it never should be. Unless you think they’ve gotten in the car with majorly low blood sugars or you’re literally about to go and do something like hardcore sports – diabetes can wait! If they want to tell you how their blood sugars were today, they’ll tell you. It can wait until you’re home until you ask how their bloods were during the day or whether they think that trial you did with breakfast paid off at break time etc. 

I realise some may be concerned about blood sugars that spiked from missed boluses or completely missed blood sugar checks but interrogating them as soon as they get in the car simply won’t help. 

Diabetes may be a piece of the puzzle but it is not the whole picture. 

Tip #5: Support don’t berate.  

This tip isn’t specific to school – it’s throughout school and life. I know the first thing you want to do when your kid tells you they hit 21 at 10am from not bolusing for their cornflakes is to immediately ask “Why didn’t you bolus?”. You probably also want to say “Don’t you know what happens when you get ketones or raise your A1c too much?” or “This can’t happen again.”. Whatever you want to say and however concerned you are by this – don’t say it!
I know I’m asking quite a big thing here. But by questioning why something happened immediately, telling them off a little, when you look so disappointed in them or start to list every outcome and effect you’re really not going to get anywhere. Not with a teenager. Don’t you think they’ve been through all that in their own heads already? They’re kicking themselves so much that you being frustrated too, or showing them you are, doesn’t help. 

Support them. Help them rectify the problem to begin with. Then address perhaps why that could have happened, think of methods to reduce the problem in the first place. But one of the most important tings to do? Remember that if they’ve had a bad diabetes day – they’ve probably had a bad day with something else too. That needs just as much support as the medical problems that day. 

I know all you want to do is ask them why they did that thing to cause that blood sugar, but they’re already annoyed at themselves so support them. They don’t need added negativity.

Tip #6: Don’t expect perfection.

I know I’m attempting to make your integration to secondary school easier with tips and tricks, you’ve probably had lots of chats with the school and your 11 year old already in preparation and you’ll have put tons of mechanisms and alarms or schedules in place to prevent to many mistakes. 

But it will not go to plan. By any means. Mistakes will happen, insulin will be forgotten, somedays you’ll both want to scream, shout and cry. 

That’s okay. 

Go with it. 

Don’t expect perfection, because it isn’t acheivable. Life gets in the way – both of your lives. But that’s okay. 

Tip #7: It gets better.

This is more of reassurance than a tip. Moving up to secondary school is terrifying for you and your 11 year old (although in completely different ways). It will be rocky and it will take a lot of negotiating and navigating to stay upright. 

It won’t be easy. But you’ll get there. Take each day as it comes. When it does goes wrong, tomorrow is a new day and you start over. 

Finally, it does honestly get better. I’m at a point with my mum where I can just walk in the room and tell her I’m 23 and haven’t been going down yet and ask how much should I give in an injection without worrying whether she’ll get angry. 

Yes, sometimes she’ll get annoyed and yes sometimes we disagree over things I have and haven’t done medically. But I’m not worried she’ll have a go at me because I know I’ll get help first and foremost. 

So it gets better. 

There’s a dozen more things I could tell you, but I don’t have room for anymore. The most important thing I can tell you now is this:

– Trust your child.

– Support them through the good and the bad. 

– Mistakes will happen but that’s okay. 

– Everyone is different. These tips are from my own personal experience and your experience may well be different, so the best way for you to find out how your 11 year old likes things to be done is by just asking them. I promise we don’t bite!

I hope I’ve given you some helpful ideas on how to start navigating secondary school! If I have please feel free to like and share my post and if I haven’t go ahead and ask me a question in the comments! I’m sorry I didn’t post for a while – I had a lot on my plate with exams but now I’ll be back a bit more frequently:)