The Great Debate: Is it Fair to Punish a Hypoglycemic Child?


Katy Killilea recently wrote a feature article for ASweetLife in which she posed this thought-provoking question. It arose after a hypoglycemic experience with her son in which he wandered away from her when his blood sugar was low. His rebellious attitude during the incident prompted Katy to take his phone away from him. Even when his blood sugar came up and he apologized for his actions, Katy decided to stick with her decision in the hope that this would be a teaching moment for both her and her son.

After reading the article, I felt thoroughly caught in the middle between Katy and her son. On the one hand, I sympathized with him because I recall plenty of hypoglycemic episodes in my childhood in which I acted unlike myself. Heck, even in my adulthood, some blood sugars have triggered irrational emotions or behavior. On the other hand, I know that blood sugar cannot justify or excuse behavior (unless it’s an emergency situation or other unique circumstance). I’m absolutely guilty of being a defiant elementary-age kid who was conveniently “too low” at a given moment in time to clean her room or help with the dishes. Obviously, I realize now that it was wrong to blame my laziness on my diabetes, and I don’t blame my parents for a second for being frustrated with me in those particular situations in which I was perfectly fine, albeit bratty. Even though I’m not a parent, I can understand Katy’s feelings about the alarming nature of the event and the fact that an important lesson about behavior can be gleaned from it.

I decided to ask my mom her opinion on the subject. I summarized Katy’s article and the subsequent debate it sparked. My mother’s response was succinct; frankly, she felt as though she should not judge. She thinks this could be a common occurrence for some children and that they need to learn how to pay attention to their blood sugars, seeing as it could be a lifelong issue. In general, my mom believes that each family is unique, with their own set of issues that they will deal with as they see fit. She ended by saying she does not think a child should be overly punished, though.

The more I thought about my mom’s answer, the more it made sense to me. Just like diabetes itself, the fairness of punishing a hypoglycemic child varies case to case. Some children’s behavior may be more affected by a low than others, which could necessitate a punishment to prevent serious consequences in future hypoglycemic circumstances. I can’t remember a time in my life where I received a punishment for a low blood sugar, but I also have a good track record for recognizing low symptoms and correcting it before they exacerbate. Speaking of my low symptoms, my mood usually isn’t affected by them—I have physical indicators like shakiness, dizziness, and sluggishness—quite unlike Katy’s son as described in her article.

That proves the point, though: that each person with diabetes is different. We have different treatment methods, different low/high symptoms, different ways of coping with it. It’s all about trial-and-error, finding what works best for you. With that in mind, I’m pretty sure my mom and I lie on the same side of debate, the one I call the judgment-free zone. Diabetes is constantly teaching me, and this time I learned that what isn’t fair is to judge how other individuals handle the challenges that diabetes presents.

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