Helping Your Child Manage Type 1 Diabetes
As parent, all you want is for your child to be healthy and happy. So when you learned your child has type 1 diabetes, you probably felt anxious or upset. Your child might have felt that way too. Although diabetes is a life-changing diagnosis, it doesn’t have to become your life – or your child’s life. Your family can still enjoy their favorite activities, and your child can still live a fulfilling and happy life.
The first step is to learn as much as you can about diabetes. You can do this by reaching out to your pediatric endocrinologist, family physician, a certified diabetes educator, a registered dietitian nutritionist and other healthcare providers. These specially trained professionals should also be part of your child’s diabetes care team. They can answer your questions, provide support and create a diabetes medical management plan (DMMP) to share with school personnel, daycare workers and other care providers.
As your child grows and develops more independence, his or her involvement in diabetes self-care also changes. Below are general guidelines to help your child manage type 1 diabetes during different phases of his or her life. Make sure to talk with your physician or certified diabetes educator about these phases, and whether your child is ready to advance to the next level of responsibility.
Infants and Toddlers
Generally, children younger than 2 are too young to know what’s going on. As a parent, you’ll have to manage all aspects of your child’s diabetes care. It’s important to stay calm, and test blood glucose levels and give insulin injections quietly. Comforting and reassuring your child afterward can help him or her become more comfortable with the process.
Children ages 3 and 4 begin to understand what’s happening around them and why. This is a good time to explain diabetes-related terms and what you are doing to treat their diabetes – simply and often. Try to make certain your child understands that he or she didn’t do anything to cause diabetes, and that what you’re doing helps them control the disease. It’s important to explain to your child that controlling diabetes allows him or her to participate in their favorite activities.
Children ages 5 to 12 are better able to think on their own, and they want to do things for themselves. Slowly let your child do his or her own blood glucose checks and plan meals, but stay involved. Your child’s maturity, skills, readiness and interest can help you determine how much responsibility they are ready for. But if you’re unsure, you can reach out to a member of your child’s diabetes care team for guidance and support. Just make sure to answer any questions your child has, and talk openly and honestly about diabetes. This will help your child become more comfortable with managing the disease.
Often, teens want to be spontaneous, and to be masters of their own lives. This means wanting to do, eat and try new things, as well as testing their limits. Teens also experience growth spurts and body changes, which can make managing blood glucose levels difficult. They often don’t think about, or understand, how their actions can affect their health, especially if they have diabetes.
Help your teenager through this difficult time by being honest, sensitive and supportive. Explain that independence comes with knowledge and responsibility, and that fully understanding and controlling diabetes can give your child the flexibility he or she wants. Talk openly – and frequently – about how actions always have consequences. It’s important to always practice healthy habits to keep diabetes under control.
Seek Support when you Need It
Always remember that you’re not alone, and it’s OK to seek help and support – either from family members or other community members. Participating in a diabetes support group is a great way to meet other parents, caregivers and community members who also have personal experiences with managing diabetes. They can encourage and support you as you work to help your child manage diabetes.