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Newly diagnosed childhood diabetes: a psychosocial transition for parents?


  • Lesley Lowes MSc PhD DPSN RGN RSCN RNT,

  • John W. Gregory MD FRCP FRCPCH DCH MBChB T(M)(Paed),

  • Patricia Lyne BSc PhD

Lesley Lowes,
Department of Child Health,
University Hospital of Wales,
Heath Park,
Cardiff CF14 4XW,


Aim.  This paper reports a study to gain a new theoretical understanding of parental grief responses and the process of adaptation to a diagnosis of childhood diabetes.

Background.  A diagnosis of childhood (type 1) diabetes is an anxious and distressing event for the whole family. Little is known about the experience of parents of newly diagnosed children as they cope with and adapt to their new situation. Parkes’ Theory of Psychosocial Transition proposes that life-change events, or ‘psychosocial transitions’, require people to undertake a major revision of their assumptions about the world. The relevance of this theory to adjusting to a diagnosis of childhood diabetes has not been explored.

Method.  Forty audio taped in-depth interviews were undertaken with 38 parents of 20 newly-diagnosed children. The data were subsequently examined using the framework of the Theory of Psychosocial Transition.

Findings.  Before diagnosis, most parents associated their child's symptoms with normal childhood illnesses. The unexpectedness and speed of the diagnosis left all parents ill-prepared to deal with the situation. Their world suddenly changed, leaving them insecure and uncertain about the future. Diabetes intruded emotionally and practically upon all of their lives. Parents successfully adjusted and adapted their lives and rebuilt a new model of the world to accommodate their child's diabetes. However, this dynamic process has no guaranteed endpoint for parents.

Conclusions.  A diagnosis of childhood diabetes leads to a psychosocial transition for parents. The concept of transition provides a logical explanation of parents’ responses to loss, and allows increased understanding of the grieving and adaptation processes experienced by parents of children diagnosed with a chronic condition such as diabetes. This knowledge should help health care professionals to assist parents in the period of transition.