Monday, January 26, 2015

Behavioral Diabetes

At the risk of upsetting those who have to manage (or love someone who has to manage) actual diabetes, I've labeled a pattern exhibited by my eight-year-old behavioral diabetes.  Perhaps you know a behavioral diabetic, too.  All his life, when he's gotten hungry and his blood sugar has dipped, he's melted down.  There are worse afflictions.  Particularly in a very young child, I'd take hangry over tired meltdowns any day.   I can help reduce hanger by feeding him.  Tired and riled seems only to escalate until explosion. 

This pattern makes being home when Teddy gets home from school feel  really important.  Four to six o'clock is Ted's witching hour.  In his toddler/pre-school years, I felt I wouldn't make it through this dark valley some nights.  By trial and error, I learned that he couldn't identify low blood sugar as his problem.  He saw everything as terrible and hopeless, but he couldn't say "Please feed me."  More than that, as we started to see the pattern and would diagnose a behavioral diabetes attack, we moved from asking him if he was hungry to telling him he needed to eat something.  Unable to identify hunger as the problem, he would fight back, adding resentment of our prodding him to eat to his already-dark outlook.

[Editor's note:  I was drafting this post in my notebook while Teddy and I waited for his brother to finish an event.  I stopped during the above paragraph because Teddy said "I'm hungry".  It was 4:05 pm.  We went out to the corner convenience store for a dose of pretzel-cillin.]

I've tried and failed to capture on video the whiplash transformation in his personality that as little as one bite of food can effect.  He can move from moaning to singing in one-fifth of a banana.  It blows our minds.

As much as I'm proud of us as parents for figuring out the problem and helping Teddy manage his behavior at moments like these, I do worry that feeding him when he's upset essentially lays the groundwork for an eating disorder.  On a recent episode of Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Jeff Garlin, who's had his troubles with food, said in a slick and winning way - "You know, I'll either feel some feelings or have a sandwich."  Likewise, Weight Watchers' current ad campaign enjoins "If you're happy and you know it, eat a snack...If you're sad and you know it eat a snack...if you're human, eat your feelings, eat a snack."

While it seems like there is some chemical, blood-sugar magic to Teddy getting a snack when he really needs one, I want him to learn to take care of himself, not equate any bad feelings with hunger and attempt to eat them away.  It's a delicate balance.  How do I say "Eat this banana now, but don't eat an entire pizza at 2 am when you're 24, and an awesome young lady has just broken up with you."?  Actually, that doesn't sound half bad.  I'm going to try it tomorrow at twenty after four.


Karen Gorss said...

Does it help to feed him between 3:30 and 4? Given the situation you describe, I would be tempted to meet him at the bus stop (or wherever you meet him after school) with that banana already in hand.

Interesting posts this year. Thanks!

JFo said...

Although I don't go out to the bus stop with food in hand, it's pretty much the first order of business when he comes home from school. I can usually diagnose a behavioral diabetes attack quickly now. Even when there are no storm clouds gathering, I get him a snack right away if he doesn't get one himself.

Anne H. said...

I want a snack. Those cakes looked YUMMY!