When Diabetes Strikes Your Child

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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