Caring for a Child With Diabetes
When your child has type 1 diabetes, tracking blood sugar and insulin doses quickly becomes part of your family’s daily routine. And while it’s tempting (and probably quicker) to do everything for your child, it’s important to involve even young children in their own care. For example, it might make your toddler feel more in control if he or she (with your close guidance) gets to choose the site for insulin injections, or the spot on the finger to poke for blood sugar checks.
As your child grows and develops, his or her needs will change and they will become more independent. It is likely he or she will want to take a more active role in handling his or her diabetes. Encourage your child to keep a healthy lifestyle to help achieve blood sugar control. It is important to build self-management skills and a sense of responsibility for their own care in school-age children, especially when they are away from home.
The challenges parents face in handling their children’s diabetes are likely to change as they grow. Your diabetes care team members are the best ones to advise you on diabetes care during the stages of your child’s growth, but here are some common challenges:
Infants and toddlers (up to 36 months) – Blood sugar can be hard to predict and may go from high to low and back again due to not eating regularly.
Preschoolers and primary school (3–7 years) – Appetites and amount of activity can be hard to predict. Now is the time to get them more involved in their care and build their self-confidence.
Children of older school age (8–11 years) – Making diabetes care flexible enough to allow the child to join school and/or peer activities.
Preteens and teenagers (12–19) – Puberty often brings increased need for insulin. Managing blood sugar becomes more difficult due to changing hormones during this time. Adolescents can now handle many of the details of their diabetes care, but their changing roles and responsibilities, combined with the need for more independence, can cause conflicts. Greater exploration can also lead to behaviors that are risky for their health in general and especially risky for people with diabetes.
School trips and sleepovers
There is no reason why your child can’t go on school trips or stay at a friend’s house as long as they are prepared and the people responsible for looking after them are confident managing their diabetes.
Here are a few tips for making trips and sleepovers go more smoothly:
- Talk to your child’s teachers to make sure they know how to manage your child’s diabetes during a school trip—you may want to arrange a meeting before the trip for more training
- If children will be staying away overnight, make sure both your child and the adult in charge are aware of signs of nighttime low blood sugar and how to manage it if it happens
- Find out what activities are planned and what meals will be provided. You may want to pack your child a lunch if it is a day trip
- See that they have enough insulin and supplies for all their prescribed doses during the trip and that their supplies are accessible to them
- Pack enough fast-acting carbohydrates, eg, glucose tablets, sweets, or cartons of fruit juice, to help manage low blood sugar, should it occur
After-school activities and parties
As children get older, they may want to be a part of after-school activities or clubs. They may also be invited to parties at other children’s houses.
- Make sure the person in charge of your child knows his or her diabetes needs and how to manage them
- If they are going to parties, find out what food will be available at the party and discuss with the other parents what and how much your child can have
- If they are taking part in physical activity, think about whether they will need an extra snack or a different insulin dose
- If the activities/party gets in the way of their normal dosing routine, speak to your child’s health care professional to see whether the dose can be taken later
Older teens/young adults naturally want independence from their parents. As they start going out with friends and going to parties, it gets harder and harder to watch what they may be eating or drinking and more difficult to know if they are taking insulin correctly. This is a time when good communication is vital.
- Timing is key – Sit together when it’s just you and your child or talk during the times you are together, such as cooking or walking
- Mood matters – Discuss issues when all is calm and you both can think clearly
- Deal with big matters first – take care of the most important concerns, rather than every small issue