This Is How You Can Best Care for a Child with Diabetes
If your child has recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you may have a lot of questions about what their treatment plan will look like.
It may help to know that this is manageable. As a parent or a parent-in-training, you may be wondering how you can help your child learn to care for themselves while going to school, playing with friends, and having all the typical happy, carefree experiences of childhood.
“Don’t worry. Managing T1D in kids involves daily management tasks, but life with this condition still leaves plenty of room for your child to enjoy the day to day routine of their siblings, friends, and classmates.”
Here are some things you need to know about caring for a child with T1D at home and at school.
It can be difficult to take care of a child with T1D when you are learning a lot about the disease and trying to figure out what works best for your child.
According to Nemours Children’s Health, there are four main parts to a diabetes care plan for children:
- Blood sugars. Different types of fingerstick glucose meters and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) allow you and your child to check blood sugar levels throughout the day, helping you keep the levels within a targeted range. Depending on a child’s age and diabetes management dependency, it may be helpful to supervise blood sugar checks.
- Insulin. T1D means your child’s pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to function properly, per the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that kids with the condition need to take insulin so their body functions properly. This is administered by either an injection or insulin pump.
- Exercise. Physical activity helps regulate blood sugar levels and can actually make insulin work better, according to Nemours Children’s Health. Ideally, your child should be active for at least 60 minutes every day. You can work up to this goal over time and motivate your child by finding an activity they enjoy and even participating in the activity with them.
- Meal planning. Eating nutritious foods will help your child maintain a healthy weight and keep their blood sugar levels from spiking. Whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats are great places to start. You can work with your diabetes care team on what options work best and whether low carb food choices are appropriate for your child’s lifestyle.
The management plan for a child with diabetes should include a look at mental and emotional health. Kids with chronic health conditions can have trouble making friends, being confident in their bodies, and feeling supported.
There are many local and online communities offering peer support for kids with T1D, which can be vital in helping your child feel they are not alone in living with this chronic condition.
Peer support groups can help your child manage their own diabetes, introduce them to new friends, and help caregivers understand how to support their child. Make sure your child is safe when interacting with virtual groups and monitor their online activities.
Several groups like the American Diabetes Association (ADA), JDRF, and Children with Diabetes (CWD) can assist your family with finding people who “get it,” both in person and online.
You can be diagnosed at any age.
The name juvenile diabetes is outdated and does not reflect the reality that kids, teens, and adults can all be diagnosed with T1D.
The CDC still reports that the peak age is between
Diabetes is a lifelong illness no matter the diagnosis age. People who receive a diagnosis in childhood will need to learn how to manage their condition as adults.
The treatment plans for kids and adults with T1D are the same.
- Checking the sugar levels.
- Taking a drug.
- Getting regular exercise.
- A healthy diet is what you should be eating.
That said, the
As kids grow into adolescents and puberty ensues, their diabetes care plan should reflect how their body responds to things like exercise, sleep, and diet.
Many people with diabetes choose to use an injection to take their medication, but many also use an insturment pump and a continuous-moat device.
There are a few other ways to do this, including continuous glucose monitors andinsulin pumps.
- Insulin pump. This diabetes technology has become more popular since the 1990s. It’s a small device that administers insulin continuously in the background throughout the day and night (basal), as well as in bursts (boluses) around meal times. A tiny catheter is injected into the top layer of fatty tissue under your skin and the little needle is removed, so insulin is delivered that way. You typically replace a pump infusion site every 2 or 3 days.
- Continuous glucose monitor (CGM). This diabetes device has been around since 2004. It measures your glucose levels every few minutes, using a sensor inserted under the top layer of skin and communicating via a transmitter that you stick on your skin. The
sensor transmits the informationthe data to a handheld receiver, smartphone app, and sometimes an insulin pump. You typically change out the CGM sensor every 7 to 14 days.
If you have to take injections for diabetes, these devices can make it easier to manage it. There are pros and cons to these technologies.
Pros of CGMs and insulin pumps
- More fine-tuned doses of the drug.
- One can more closely monitor their blood sugar levels.
- There are less fingersticks and injections.
- Flexibility in your schedule is important.
- Blood sugar changes are detected no matter what you do.
- Reducing stress around monitoring blood sugars can be done manually.
Cons of CGMs and insulin pumps
- “It’s more expensive than traditional methods.”
- It requires more training and education.
- relies on system accuracy
- Diabetes device fatigue can lead to emotional exhaustion.
- Increased risk of skin irritations and infections.
- Even with a CGM, you may still need to do traditional blood sugar checks.
- increased risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) if the insulin pump isn’t working correctly — and because DKA can be a medical emergency, getting medical care may be necessary
“Many parents of kids with diabetes worry about trusting other people. This is an important step in managing your child’s condition, unless you choose to home school.”
Both the ADA and the JDRF offer guides for working with your child’s school, which include:
- “A conversation about your child’s condition is necessary.”
- Working with school staff to discuss management.
- The necessary supplies and equipment for diabetes are coordinated.
The federal government requires all schools to have a plan for kids with diabetes. These can vary for each child, but they may include information.
- How will the school keep your child safe?
- They should not be discriminated against on the basis of their disability.
- Allowing your child to manage their condition in the school building, for example, eating outside of the standard meal times if necessary.
- What technology is used.
- When to contact a parent or a professional for diabetes care.
- Should the emergency services be called?
The school can use the 504 plan to provide the best care for your child during school hours and to make sure that your child has access to everything they need to be healthy over the course of a school day.
How do you take care of a child with type 1 diabetes?
- Insulin. Your child will need take insulin, either by syringe, pre-filled insulin pen or a diabetes device known as an insulin pump. It will be important to learn about short-acting insulin and long-acting insulin, how each work, when to take insulin, and how to afford this life-sustaining medication.
- Blood sugars. A key to diabetes management is checking glucose levels, or blood sugars. This can be done through a traditional glucose meter using a drop of blood from the finger, or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that uses a sensor on the body to measure glucose readings.
- Meal planning. Learning what foods and drinks impact glucose levels can be tricky. You will need to learn how to count carbohydrates (separate from calories) and see how various foods and beverages impact glucose levels in different ways. This will include dosing insulin correctly for food and drinks.
- Activity. Exercise often lowers glucose levels, meaning that it can be dangerous if too much insulin and not enough food is in your child’s body before, during, or after physical activity.
How serious is type 1 diabetes in a child?
There is a way to manage type 1 diabetes. Every day it involves active attention and management. If not treated, low or high blood sugars can be dangerous, and can impact the eyes, nerves, heart, and kidneys. Many people with T1D live long healthy lives, despite the fact that this is a lifelong condition.
Why did my child get type 1 diabetes?
Science does not know the exact causes of T1D. But researchers believe it may be inherited through specific genes that cause a predisposition to the disease. A virus or other environmental factor may then trigger an immune system response that affects the pancreas’ ability to make insulin. Not everyone with these genes develops T1D, but nothing you or your child did “wrong” caused the condition.
What can my child with diabetes eat?
For the most part, kids with T1D can eat a fairly typical diet as long as you help them manage their portions and carbohydrate amounts. Fresh veggies, low sugar fruits, lean protein, low fat dairy, and whole grains are all nutritious foods for kids with T1D.
While there may be food limitations, most diabetes experts advise that complete restriction isn’t the best approach. Allowing your child to enjoy treats in a reasonable manner, like a piece of cake on their birthday, is important for their mental and emotional health. You may simply need to plan ahead for those types of indulgences, making sure your child monitors their blood sugar levels and takes the appropriate amount of insulin.
It is not easy to manage type 1 diabetes at first because of a steep learning curve. You will need to learn how to keep your child safe, how to administer diabetes care, and how to keep your family healthy.
“There is no shortage of resources for caregivers and kids with diabetes. Diabetes experts encourage people with diabetes to find local or online peer support so they don’t feel alone in life with the disease.”