Type 1 diabetes is a condition that needs lifelong treatment. How you manage your child’s diabetes depends on many things, including his age and how long he’s been diagnosed. An approach that works well for a teenager won’t work with a toddler. And a child who’s diagnosed when he’s school-age is going to need to adjust to this new reality. Keep these guidelines in mind.
Infancy: If your child is diagnosed at this young of an age, you’ll need the help of a primary care doctor, a dietitian, and a pediatric endocrinologist to help you manage it. They can give you feeding tips and teach you how to inject insulin and monitor blood glucose levels.
Since babies aren’t able to tell you how they’re feeling, you’ll need to be extra aware of the signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In infants, the early signs may include: crankiness, sleepiness, poor feeding, a more high-pitched cry than usual, and low body temperature.
Everyone, even infants, with type 1 diabetes should wear an ID bracelet that lets people know about their condition.
Toddlers: Since young kids are often picky eaters, you’ll need to talk to your child’s doctor about his diet. Together you can decide whether to let your toddler graze on food throughout the day or stick to regular meals and snacks that are rich in complex carbohydrates.
It will take some time for you to feel comfortable managing your child’s diabetes. Temper tantrums are common in toddlers. Always check your child’s levels to make sure low blood sugar isn’t what’s causing him to act out.
Preschoolers: At this young age, kids won’t really understand why they have to get their finger stuck throughout the day or why they have restrictions on their diet. You can expect them to be uncooperative, scared, or even angry sometimes.
When the mood is right, you can begin teaching your child to care for his condition. As early as age 3, some kids are ready to start checking their own blood glucose levels. Some may even be able to help count carbohydrates at meals.
Before your child starts day care or preschool, ask your doctor for a Diabetes Medical Management Plan (DMMP). This is a plan that spells out how you manage your child’s diabetes. Share it with your child’s care provider or school. Since what’s right for your child may not be right for another, this plan will explain in detail your child’s needs. It will let care providers know how often to check your child’s blood glucose levels, how to give insulin, which snacks are good and when, and how to treat both high and low blood sugar.
It’s normal for parents to worry about their kids. You’ll worry. But by showing your child confidence, you’ll help him feel that his condition can be controlled. You don’t want your child to feel diabetes makes him weak or limits him.
School-Aged Kids: If a school-age kid is just being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it’s normal for him to feel anxious and even depressed for a few weeks or months. Allow him time to come to terms with it, and help him get used to the new routine. With time, he can take an active part in his own care. Kids who are 8 years old and older can do finger-stick tests, and some can even be taught to give themselves insulin.
When a child does things for himself, it builds confidence and lets him know he can care for himself when you’re not around. But he still needs plenty of support.
Encourage your child to be active. Regular exercise can help control blood sugar. Before field trips and sports activities, tell the adult in charge about your child’s condition and how to care for him in case of an emergency. Make sure your child has permission to go to the bathroom, eat, and drink fluids as he needs.
Before play dates, talk to the other child’s parent and let her know about your child’s condition. For peace of mind on sleepovers, pack twice the supplies your child needs. Have him check in with you during the evening to go over his levels and to let you know how he’s feeling.
Adolescents: Once kids turn 12, they’re usually able to monitor their blood sugar without help. But since they’re also becoming more independent of you and social with their friends, they may be less likely to do so. It’s important for you to stay involved.
As a child’s body changes during puberty, the diabetes may become harder to control. They often need more insulin.Talk to your child’s doctor to see if you need to adjust the treatment plan.
Teenagers: Teens can check their own blood glucose levels and give themselves insulin. But they’re likely spending more time away from you. Make sure your teen continues to wear his diabetes ID bracelet or necklace. Don’t rely on a wallet card, which is easily missed.
Also, talk to your teen about alcohol. It’s not uncommon for teens to experiment with it, but your child needs to know that it can drop his blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar can make you look like you're drunk. Your teen should make sure the people around him know he has diabetes.