Caring for your child with type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that currently has no cure. Your child needs to take insulin injections. This can be a scary process for adults, not to mention for a child. If your child is very young, you will need to give these injections. When your child is older, he or she can take on some of the responsibility for insulin injections.
Your child needs to watch his or her diet closely. Again, this is an area many adults have difficulty with, and it can be even harder on a child. It helps if the entire family gets involved. If your family adopts a low-fat, multiple-vegetable diet, it will be easier for your child. Although the lure of eating junk foods remains, you can balance your child's meals with healthier selections at home. Above all, a child needs to understand the relationship between food and his or her blood sugar.
Many children "cheat" on their diets and eat extra foods without telling their parents or other adults. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and hospitalizations. Make it clear to your child that eating equals a need for insulin, and he or she should always tell an adult when eating something that's not on the meal plan for the day.
It's helpful to incorporate the idea of balance into your child's understanding. If your child wants to eat a food not on the meal plan for the day, then your child needs to adjust the insulin dose to reflect this change.
School can also present a particular challenge for a child with type 1 diabetes. Because of the need to take insulin injections throughout the day and the need to eat on a regular schedule, children with type 1 diabetes stand out from their peers. It may help if you encourage your child to explain diabetes to his or her friends and show them how the equipment works. Most children are merely curious and are eager to learn.
It is also important that you meet with your child's teacher, school nurse, and school administrators to discuss diabetes care at school. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers children with diabetes, and therefore the child's school must assist you with his or her diabetes treatment. Make sure that the school has on hand the correct type of supplies and insulin for your child.
You should also meet with your child's gym teacher to discuss how diabetes is affected by exercise. Most gym teachers are not trained to recognize signs of sudden high or low blood sugar, so you must explain what symptoms your child may have and how to deal with them. Encourage your child to play sports and be physically active, because it positively contributes to his or her diabetes treatment; however, physical activity will now take more planning than before. Your diabetes team can help you adjust your child's diabetes treatment plan for physical activity.
As children with type 1 diabetes grow, encourage them to take more control over their treatment. As a parent, you may want to be there every time your child gets an insulin injection, but it's important that you let your child develop independence.
There are many summer camps available for children with diabetes. Such settings can both help children learn about their disease and how to manage it, as well as introduce them to other children with type 1 diabetes. If you arm your child with the proper knowledge, it not only empowers him or her to take responsibility for self-care but also provides a greater understanding of the disease and why it's important to treat it.
Support for you
Finally, you should never feel like your family is alone in dealing with your child's diabetes. Your diabetes team coordinator can direct you to local support groups as well as numerous resources on the Internet and publications from organizations such as the American Diabetes Association. In addition to providing emotional support, these groups can also direct you to information you need to overcome whatever hurdles arise in your child's experience with diabetes.
Last Updated: December 3, 2008
Author: Caroline Rea, RN, BS, MS