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Tips to Help Your Child With Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 08, 2021

When your child has diabetes, you have an important job to do. You check their blood sugar levels, give them insulin, make sure they eat the right foods, and keep their blood sugar in a healthy range at all times. It’s a lot -- but you can manage when you know what to do in every situation.

Stay on Target With Blood Sugar Tests

Your child’s doctor will tell you how often to check their blood sugar levels, what the target numbers are, and what method is best for them. You can prick their finger or test another body part, or your child may have a special blood glucose meter.

It may be up to you to give them insulin, either by injection or through an insulin pump. Your doctor will let you know how much to give and when to give it.

Kids don’t like needle pricks, but there are ways to make this easier:

  • Breathing exercises. Breathe deeply with them to help them relax. If they are calm, the pinch won’t be so bad. If you have a younger child, have them blow into a bubble wand. That’ll encourage them to exhale slowly and deeply.
  • Let them choose which finger to prick. Have them count down to zero with you so they know when they’ll feel the stick.

Make a checklist and run through it every morning before school to make sure they have what they need to check their blood sugar during the day. If your child can carry their own supplies, check that they're in their bag. Some things they'll need to bring with them:

  • Blood sugar meter, testing strips, and lancets
  • Insulin, syringes, or insulin pens. Even if your child uses an insulin pump, they still need a backup in case it breaks.
  • Ketone meter and blood or urine test strips
  • Fast-acting source of carbohydrates, such as glucose tablets or juice
  • Glucagon emergency kit (if your doctor prescribes it)
  • Antiseptic or wet wipes

Whether your child carries their own supplies to school or keeps them with the school nurse, make sure they’re fully stocked and not expired.

Eat Healthy -- as a Family

If your child has diabetes, encourage the whole family to eat healthier. If everyone makes changes, they won’t feel like they’re missing out. Ask their doctor if they can have treats on special occasions like birthdays, and whether you’ll need to adjust their insulin if they do.

To stay on track, plan your child's meals and snacks ahead of time. If they eat the school lunch, find out what the cafeteria is serving. Many schools list their menus and nutritional information online at the start of the week.

Monitor Exercise

If your child plays sports or has plans to be more active than usual, check their blood sugar levels before they begin the activity. Check again while they’re active and when they’re done.

Exercise can affect blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours, so they may need to take extra insulin or eat extra snacks. Work with their doctor to come up with a plan made just for them.

Keep School Informed

Make a medical management plan with the help of your child’s doctor. Give their school a copy. It should spell out what the school should do for every situation. The following questions can help you get started:

  • What treatment should they get when their blood sugar levels are too high or too low?
  • Can they monitor blood sugar levels themselves?
  • What are the guidelines for playing sports based on blood sugar levels or other factors?

Things like parties and field trips may take some extra prep work. Together, you and the staff at your child’s school can help make sure their diabetes stays under control.

Let Your Teen Become More Independent

Teenagers want more freedom and independence. If your teen has diabetes, it’s very likely they’ll want to manage it by themselves, or at least with much less help from you.

It may be scary for you to let go of some of that control, since there might be slip-ups and problems along the way, but it’s an important step as they grow into an adult.

If your teen is ready to manage their diabetes on their own, try these things to help them feel more responsible:

  • Let go of control slowly, and make sure they can handle the job.
  • Try not to nag about their self-care.
  • Praise them when they do well. It will inspire them to want to keep up the good work.
  • Allow them some alone time with the doctor. This can help them feel more in control of their care.
  • Remind them that they can talk to you about anything, whenever they need to.

Have an Emergency Plan

Even with careful planning, your child's blood sugar can get too high or low. Besides emergency insulin, your child should have a "low box" handy at all times. Inside this kit, pack a few fast-acting sources of carbohydrates, such as glucose tablets, hard candy, and juice.

Tell your child's teachers, bus drivers, coaches, and care providers about their diabetes. Make sure they know what to do if a problem comes up and who to contact.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Nemours Foundation: “Type 1 diabetes: What is it?”

American Diabetes Association: “Shots & blood glucose checks,” “Food & Fun,” “Sports & recreation,” School,” “Diabetes medical management plan,” “Communicating with your child,” "Safe at School," "Carbohydrate Counting," "Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes," "Extracurricular Activities and Field Trips."

Diabetes Research Institute Foundation: “Your child was just diagnosed with diabetes: Now what?” “The trials and tribulations of the teen years.”

Rachel Head, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator; spokeswoman, American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Mayo Clinic: "Type 1 Diabetes," "Diabetic Hypoglycemia."

CDC: "Managing Diabetes at School Playbook."

UCSF Children's Hospital: "Making Adjustments for Exercise."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel."

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