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Helping kids grow

Kids with diabetes are just like kids without diabetes—they strive for a little more independence each year, they want to receive positive reinforcement from their parents and they don't like to stand out from the crowd.

How your child accepts diabetes will look a lot like the way you, their parent, accepts it. If you view diabetes as a tragedy that shakes the very roots of the family tree, your child is going to feel that way, too. Or if you look at diabetes as a fact of life that requires attention and discipline, your child will get the picture and be more prepared for a healthy future.

So how can you protect your child without dominating? It's a fine line, but with a little effort and consistency, you'll be able to walk it with ease.

Transition the self-care. Encourage your child to handle age-appropriate aspects of self-management, so they'll feel a bit more in control.

  • Pre-school—You'll handle just about all the self-care, but kids as young as 3 can begin choosing which finger to use for a blood sugar check, or selecting an injection site. They may even be able to begin recognizing the signs of a low, even if they don't know why they don't feel quite right.1
  • School age—As they grow, kids will probably get better at recognizing the signs of low blood sugar and, by 8 or 10, they may be able to monitor their own blood glucose levels. They can also start weighing in on healthy food choices. They may be able to give an injection, although they may not be able to draw up insulin until they're 10 or 11 years old.1
  • Teen years—While your son or daughter may be developmentally ready to take over many of their own self-care tasks, these years are all about fitting in, risk taking and rebellion. You need to be ready to step in if your teenager is feeling burned out, or just needs more support. It may help to let your son or daughter talk to the doctor or diabetes educator alone to ask questions.1

Consider an insulin pump. Studies suggest that pumps can be used safely and effectively in even infants and toddlers. Plus, like adults with diabetes, kids using pumps could more effectively manage insulin levels, giving them less erratic blood sugars throughout the day. If your child is a good candidate for insulin pump therapy, you may find that it gives the whole family more flexibility in eating, sleeping and activities, as well as greater peace of mind.2

Send positive messages. If your child feels guilty about "bad" blood sugar levels, things may get even worse. Instead, don't talk about good and bad results. Think in terms of high, low and normal—with no judgment attached.3

Help achieve normalcy. Remember that your child is a child first, and a person with diabetes second. Try to help them feel like the rest of the kids. Before birthday parties, for example, talk to the doctor about whether cake and ice cream might be okay—maybe extra insulin or exercise can help cover the additional carbohydrates. Or offer to bring a diabetes-friendly dessert to the party. That way, your child won't feel left out of the festivities.

Someday, all diabetes self-care responsibilities will be in your child's hands. Helping them learn how to manage their blood sugar in positive, effective ways is a great gift you can give them.

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1Chase PH. Responsibilities of children at different ages. In: Understanding Diabetes. 11th ed. Denver, CO: University of Colorado Denver; 2006. Available at: Accessed April 28, 2016.

2Phillip M, Battelino T, Rodriguez H, Danne T, Kaufman F. Use of insulin pump therapy in the pediatric age-group. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(6):549-554. Available at: Accessed April 28, 2016.

3Polonsky WH. Diabetes Burnout: What to Do When You Can't Take It Anymore. Alexandria, VA: American Diabetes Association; 1999.

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