Growing Up Diabetic: How Parents Can Help

Jillian Berndtson

| 4 min read

Mom giving insulin to her daughter.
That was my blood glucose level when my parents brought me to the hospital as a 20-month-old child. I had been drinking water faster than they could replenish it and I wouldn’t stop crying. One blood test later and I was officially diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The diagnosis seemed shocking to the practice, since at the time I was the youngest child they had ever seen with Type 1 diabetes.
While I don’t remember being diagnosed, I know that single day changed not only my life, but my entire family’s as well. The following years were characterized by quarterly endocrinologist visits, yearly meetings with teachers explaining how I manage my diabetes and what to look out for and checking my sugar many, many times each day.
Fast forward 18 years and more needles than I could possibly count and I’m living a perfectly normal life, with the addition of an insulin pump and a glucometer.
Living with diabetes, or taking care of someone who has diabetes can be a challenge. It’s a balancing act of trying to live a “normal life” while also taking the necessary precautions to maintain good health. So, as a parent, what can you do?
  • Embrace the difference and don’t be embarrassed. Reinforce to your child that being different isn’t a bad thing. Everyone is different. Talking about the differences will help in the long run.
  • Use positives, not negatives. No child wants to be told they can’t. Instead, offer alternatives. Instead of ice cream, try yogurt. Maybe flavored water is a better option than grape juice.
  • Set a good example. Kids model their parents’ actions. If you overreact to a low blood sugar reading, the child may feel bad and try to hide it in the future. Rather than yelling at your child, talk through why their blood sugar wasn’t in the normal range and advise on ways to prevent it in the future. Likewise, you can’t expect your child to eat right and get the proper amount of exercise if you aren’t doing the same. Take on diabetes control as a family. Exercise together. Eat together.
  • Establish a new normal. Make diabetes management routine. Wake up, check your sugar and correct if necessary. Carb count, give insulin, eat. Repeat.
  • Give them independence. As your kids get older, gradually introduce diabetes management tactics. It will help them feel responsible and inhibit feeling excluded in social situations. It will also allow them to be more independent and give them opportunities to attend fun activities on their own.
  • Modify social situations. Try to remove the emphasis on food in social situations. Instead of giving out candy at birthday parties, try giving out small toys instead. When possible, use diabetic-friendly recipes to help keep your child’s blood sugar levels in normal range. When planning parties or events, try to incorporate activities that involve the kids getting active, especially if there are treats around.
  • Be supportive. It can be frustrating knowing you aren’t supposed to eat certain things or not being able to go to sleepovers because you would need insulin. It’s equally frustrating having to stop what you’re doing to eat if your blood sugar is low, or to go to the bathroom if your blood sugar is high. Be understanding and don’t make it seem like those activities are burdensome.
  • Talk about it. Make sure that you allow open communication with your child so they feel comfortable talking about their struggles with you. It will also keep you in the loop about their blood sugar levels each day.
In addition to growing up with the amazing support of my entire family, I found it helpful to go to events that raise awareness or help to educate about Type 1 diabetes. For my family, it was always the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Walk to Cure Diabetes. Many practices also offer support groups for diabetics and their families.
As with any other challenge in life, I tried to look for the positives. I used my diagnosis as a means to become comfortable with the unknown and to educate others on how to take control of their life through healthy decisions. Each day I make the decision not to let diabetes define me, thanks to the support I received during my childhood.
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Photo Credit: Flux Factory

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