The Wisdom and Courage of Children

It’s been about 25 years since I worked at Camp Needlepoint, a camp for kids who have diabetes. It was and still is a great place for kids who have diabetes to experience the outdoors in a safe and supportive environment. All of the campers have diabetes as do many of the counselors, and those who don’t have diabetes still take injections of saline and check their blood glucose.

This was one of the first places where I witnessed the courage of kids when they would give themselves their first solo insulin injection. This often took a great deal of patience and encouragement, but the courage was the same for all. At the end of the week, the children who were able to achieve this goal stood in front of the lunch room and received their awards and a standing ovation from everyone in the room. This memory still touches my heart, sincerely and deeply.


Today, I was reminded of this again when I saw some kids in a pediatric clinic where I work. I ran into a girl I have met with before who was with her parents, and we began to just catch up on how they have been doing.

Actually, when I saw them they were carrying two huge, full garbage bags into the clinic. When Zibby was newly diagnosed, she got a stuffed animal to help herself feel more in control by diagnosing it with diabetes as well. She was able to use it as a means of helping herself adjust by giving the stuffed animal injections and blood glucose checks, too. As a partner in this process, it helped make her experience a bit less lonely.

Zibby was very intuitive in using this process, since play is a great way for kids to deal with feelings about many issues in their lives. What was unique about Zibby was that she wanted to help other kids who had diabetes by stocking the clinic with stuffed animals. You see, with the medical regulations, the clinic can’t keep products like stuffed animals around, they are not sterile enough. But with help from Zibby, they might be able to offer kids these stuffed animals to keep.

Here is what Zibby did: She got together with some older kids who wanted to help her organize some meetings, and with their help Zibby met with Girl Scout and Brownie troops and their parents and told her story. Her dad said she did an incredible job, had many of the adults in tears and really got these groups to take action. In fact, they delivered 215 stuffed animals for Zibby to bring to the clinic.

I asked her if I could tell this story and she agreed, and I may not have all my facts straight, but one thing I do know is that this process of using a stuffed animal was healing and so was having the courage to give something back to other kids who are trying to live with diabetes. It’s not easy, but with people who have Zibby’s courage, it can get better.

Nice job, Zibby, and keep up the good work!

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Joe Nelson: Joe is a psychotherapist in private practice in Minnesota, where he specializes in the psychology of chronic disease and sexual problems and works with couples, families, children, and teens. He has been a Licensed Psychologist since 1985 and has earned a master’s degree from St. Mary’s College Winona, a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, and an associate’s degree in human services from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Joe has worked with troubled youth in Chicago and Minnesota and on a special project on Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He was the first social worker hired by an affiliate of the American Diabetes Association. He worked at the International Diabetes Center for 20 years, directing psychological services there for 12 years. A Certified Sex Therapist, Joe co-developed the Sexual Health Center at Park Nicollet Clinic.

Having practiced meditation for over 30 years, Joe offers instruction in mindfulness-based meditation to patients in groups and as individuals. Joe is married, has a 23-year-old daughter, and enjoys scuba diving, motorcycling, golf, and being outdoors doing almost anything.

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