When Diabetes Strikes Your Child

Tips for empowering children to take care of their diabetes.

from Stopping Diabetes in Its Tracks

Treating diabetes in a child can be more challenging than dealing with the disease yourself. Depending on their age and temperament, children vary in their ability — or desire — to understand what’s happening to them, take care of themselves, and follow your instructions. But you can put your child on the road to responsible self-care with either type 1 (the most common type in children) or type 2 diabetes if you bear these principles in mind:

Toddlers and Preschoolers Learn to recognize how hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia affect your child’s behavior, since she simply doesn’t have the words to tell you how she feels herself. Expect some battles over insulin injections and blood-sugar tests around toilet-training time, as your child starts to assert herself more, but stick to your guns to get them done. Don’t worry too much if blood sugar ranges between 150 mg/dl and 200 mg/dl (higher than what’s recommended for adults): Children need more blood sugar for normal development. Forget trying to control when your child eats. Instead, accept irregular eating patterns and compensate by using shorter-acting insulin when your child does have a bite.

Elementary School Kids As your child develops physically and mentally, he’ll be better able to understand why his treatment is necessary and become more willing to cooperate with its demands. Educate him about how caring for his condition now will protect his health in the future, but don’t scare him with the gory details of complications. Tighter blood-sugar control now becomes more important, especially at night, when there’s a higher risk of hypoglycemia. Make sure he has a bedtime snack and doesn’t skip meals. Encourage him to participate in school and social activities to build friendships, promote self-esteem, and make him feel less different from other kids. Around age eight, your child can probably start taking on some of the responsibility for injections and blood tests himself — maybe with the daytime help of teachers or classmates, who benefit from the opportunity to learn about diabetes from your child.

Preteens and Adolescents Control — over a number of things — now starts falling into your child’s hands. Studies find that tight blood-sugar monitoring as early as age 13 can prevent complications in adulthood, so encourage her to take charge — but don’t expect the thought of future consequences to motivate her too much. Now’s not the time to completely let go of the reins: Worries about what other kids think might cause her to skip steps in her care. Make an issue of it, expect an argument — but be confident that using you as an excuse (“My parents make me do it”) can help her do the right thing. Gradually give your child more responsibility as she’s able to handle it. By the time she’s choosing which college to attend or looking for work, responsibility should pass to her.

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