Q. My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Juvenile Diabetes. She takes her insulin injections and pricks her fingers to test her blood sugar after meals and handles it surprisingly well. However, at school she suffers from her classmates who poke fun at her all the time, calling her "diabetes girl" or other forms of teasing and name calling. How can I help her?

A. It is extremely painful for any child – a child struggling with a health issue in particular – to be called names. Our sages say that ona'at devarim (verbally causing someone pain) is more severe than ona'at mammon (injuring another financially). That's because a person feels more distressed when his feelings are hurt and, unlike money that can be returned, hurt feelings cannot be undone.

Not all children have developed the ability to accept and respect other people's differences; they have not yet learned to understand each person's uniqueness. Children may be teased about anything ranging from their size, weight, eyeglasses, or challenges they cope with such as diabetes, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. Mild teasing can be handled by ignoring it or walking away or having a prepared response, such as, "Yeah, whatever," or "So?" or "That's teasing. Stop it." Teasing that is hurtful, unkind, intentional and constant is called bullying and must be stopped.

How Parents Can Help:

Listen to your child in a supportive and respectful way. Just allowing your child to talk about these issues can be very helpful. Keep the conversation neutral, overreacting can result in a child overreacting, asking too many questions or giving advice can cause the child to withhold from telling you his problems again.

Validate. Sometimes kids feel like that their being teased is their own fault, that if they were different they wouldn't be hurt in this way. Discuss the situation with your child. Make it clear to her that the fact that she is dealing with the challenges of diabetes is not her fault and that she didn't do anything wrong by having this condition. No one has a right to call her names and to hurt her in any way!

Explain to her that children tease for different reasons. Sometimes it's the teaser's own need to feel empowered. These are children who view life as a seesaw and they imagine that if they can put other kids down, they will lift themselves up. Clarify that this kind of thinking is a sad distortion of reality, as the Sages taught, "Who is respected? He who respects his fellow man."

Involve the school faculty to determine a course of action to put a total stop to this kind of behavior. Consider the fact that your child may be feeling worried that if the aggressor discovers that she told on her, the situation will worsen. Remind her that this is a fear, reassure her that you will be there for her, but explain to her that it's important for her to be brave in order to bring about a change.

Encourage you child. Express your belief in her ability to handle the situation while conveying the message that you are there for her and will intervene when necessary. Steer her towards forming a supportive circle of friends.

Strategies to empower your child:

We cannot control what other people do or say, but we can control our own actions and reactions. Teaching your child constructive techniques to respond to teasing or bullying will empower her to deal with other adversities that she may encounter in life.

Teach your child the VIP method.

The VIP method for VIP kids:

  • V: Visualize the insults bouncing off you like a ball. Or, use the "raincoat technique": Picture yourself wearing an emotional raincoat. When the teasing, name calling and insults start raining down, visualize the bad words sliding off the raincoat's slippery exterior without permitting comments to be absorbed inside.
  • I: I-Messages can help you express your feelings without inviting more teasing (as would tears or angry reactions). Communicate how you feel, what has caused you to feel this way, and how you would like it otherwise by saying calmly and without fear, "I feel upset when you call me names. I would like you to stop."
  • P: Play it Cool. Stay calm and in control. Present a relaxed and confident appearance via facial expression and body posture.

As parents, we can't always protect our children from hurtful comments, but we do play an important role in helping our children deal with them. The VIP method takes the fun out of the bully's attempts to get to you. When bullies fail to get a response from the victim, they quickly lose interest.

Living with diabetes may be challenging but that doesn't take away from your daughter's special value.