Nick, 12, and Anthony, 14
Is your diabetes making your brother or sister act weird? This might explain why.
Twelve-year-old Tess doesn't get very far when she asks her little sister, Jordan, for a piece of her chocolate chip cookie.
"No, Tess!" the 7-year-old scolds. "It has sugar in it."
Then Jordan tattles to Mom, says Tess. "She's good at reporting things. It's a little annoying after a while."
Jordan hasn't asked many questions about diabetes since Tess was diagnosed five years ago. "She's really too young," Tess says.
But Jordan doesn't want to be left out, either. So when Tess pulls out her glucose tablets, Jordan asks for one. And when Jordan was younger, Tess says, "Whenever I was taking a shot, she would say, 'I want a shot too.'"
Nick remembers when he was in third grade and his older brother Anthony was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night.
Nick, now 12, had helped call 911. "He was sort of mumbling," Nick says. "We tried to give him orange juice but he wouldn't take it."
Now his mother notices that Nick watches out for his 14-year-old brother, reminding her not to forget the diet soda at the store.
But Anthony says he wouldn't mind a little space—particularly when his blood sugar is low and he gets grouchy. "When I'm low," he says, "I'm irritated and don't want to be bothered much."
So why does diabetes cause all this weirdness between brothers and sisters?
All brothers and sisters fight, says Boston psychologist Barbara Anderson. But it doesn't help, she says, when one of the children has an illness like diabetes.
Why? Because helping the child who has diabetes takes a lot of a parent's time, especially at the beginning. Therefore, your brother or sister might be getting jealous.
Nikki Wetzel, 14, remembers that baby-sitters seemed to pay more attention to her older brother, Mike, now 17, who has diabetes. "I hated that," she says. "I remember one of them was always nicer to him. She always asked him what he wanted to eat."
Actually, your brother or sister may be wrestling with a lot of different feelings, says Joe Solowiejczyk (pronounced solo-WAY-check), a New York family therapist. So try to be patient.
"Try to imagine her being worried about you," he says. "Your sister may be scared. And instead of saying she is scared, she may act out. She may be mean. She may not acknowledge how difficult it is for you."
Your brother or sister may also feel guilty. They may think that your diabetes is their fault—even though of course that's not true, says Earlene deMoulpied (pronounced de-MOOL-ped), who directs a Southern California diabetes counseling program.
They may be thinking, "Why isn't it me?" she says. "Was it that candy bar that I convinced him to eat a week ago? Is that what did it?"
That's not the only fear they might have. Ben was 11 when his mother called to tell him that his sister, Sarah, was in the hospital.
"Diabetes. I had never heard this word in my entire life," he says. "I thought, am I going to get this if I go near her?"
How to Handle the Tension
It's important for your parents, and maybe even you, to remind your brother or sister that just because diabetes may take a lot of your parents' attention doesn't mean it takes all their love. That can be difficult because sometimes the family's focus can shift in an instant to you if you're having low blood sugar and need help.
Often, fights can be traced back to food, says deMoulpied, who has been managing her own diabetes since age 4. She says siblings can turn into the "diabetes police."
Sarah, now 15, complains that big brother Ben is even stricter than her parents. "By now, I know how much insulin I need to eat a fruit smoothie," she says. "But he still doesn't want me to eat it."
If your brother or sister is asking you too many questions, nicely ask them to back off, says deMoulpied.
Diabetes Can Bring You Closer
Don't be afraid to ask your parents for help in working this all out, either. Over time, diabetes can bring the family closer, says Agatha Gallo, a Chicago professor who has worked with kids with diabetes.
Sarah and Ben like to talk about when Sarah was in the hospital, days after she was diagnosed. Her blood sugar was dropping, and she was yelling at her parents. She needed sugar. "It was my brother who actually got me to eat the Popsicle," Sarah says.
Says Ben, "I told her, 'You are eating this now.' And I literally shoved the whole thing into her mouth. Being a brother, I didn't know how sensitive I had to be. I just knew that she had to eat it!"
Sarah, Ben, Nick, Anthony, Nikki, Mike, Tess, and Jordan shared their stories in the Summer 1998 issue of Countdown for Kids magazine.