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Helping Children Learn To Manage Type 1 Diabetes: 7 Tips

Medically reviewed by Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on April 11, 2024

If your child lives with type 1 diabetes, you’re probably used to managing their care. You know all about finger sticks, glucose numbers, dietary concerns, counting carbohydrates, insulin injections, and more. As your child gets older, they’ll take over more and more diabetes-related tasks.

However, the process of transferring your child’s diabetes care requires compassion, patience, and planning. Here are some ideas that can help you with the process as they grow and change.

1. Teach Your Child About Type 1 Diabetes and Diabetes Care

Start by teaching your child about what it means to have type 1 diabetes and what care they require. This is an essential first step toward helping them manage their condition.

Talk about what you’re doing during different steps of their care. When you prick their finger to check their glucose levels, for example, explain why you’re doing it, what blood sugar is, and what different blood sugar levels mean. Examine the results together, then explain why you make the decisions that you do — such as why you might have them eat a specific snack or take insulin after a glucose reading. Over time, you can start asking them what decisions they would make based on their blood sugar numbers.

Your child can also learn how type 1 diabetes feels in their own body. They can learn to sense what hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) feels like, for instance, so they can ask for the help they need.

Your child can also help you with other aspects of their care. With your support and encouragement, they may begin to:

  • Help with their meal plan
  • Start carbohydrate counting
  • Ask questions about their treatment plan

Books, games, and videos are great tools to make learning about type 1 diabetes fun and engaging for your child. Some diabetes care teams and children’s health centers have diabetes educators who can help.

Additionally, organizations like the American Diabetes Association and Breakthrough T1D offer information and resources for caregivers to help navigate different situations their children may face.

2. Help Your Child Share About Type 1 Diabetes

As your child grows older and ventures off to school, they are going to want and need to share about type 1 diabetes with friends, teachers, coaches and sports teammates, after-school program leaders, friends’ parents, and more. Help your child learn to talk about the basics of type 1 diabetes in a way that is friendly and interesting. You can also help them talk about how having type 1 diabetes doesn’t hold them back or prevent them from doing anything other kids can do.

Talking about type 1 diabetes can help your child feel more comfortable with the condition and with themselves. It can also make sure people know what is going on if your child needs help, such as during a health emergency.

3. Transition Your Child to Self-Care Slowly

By helping your child gradually learn to manage their own care, they’ll be able to care for themselves once they are grown. Their skills will develop over time, though they may still need some support or empathy as young adults.

Never ask your child to take on more than they are comfortable with. However, if you feel like you’re doing too much management for them, talk to a doctor or other health care provider for guidance.

Your child may have anxiety or fear around managing the condition themselves. Their health care team can help them overcome this and give you ideas about small tasks they can do for themselves.

4. Tell Your Child Who They Can Trust

Once your child starts school, they’ll need to know who at school can help them if they have questions about type 1 diabetes. They’ll also need to know who can help them if there’s a problem. Their team should include their teachers, teachers’ aides, school nurse, and any other adult who can be responsible for diabetes management.

5. Help Your Child Deal With Negative Feelings

Type 1 diabetes can cause a lot of negative feelings for your child. At the very least, it can be annoying — it means they can’t eat like their peers and must deal with finger pricks and injections.

Children with type 1 diabetes may have additional negative feelings. Some may feel like they must have done something wrong to end up with the condition. Others may be scared they’ll die because of the condition or related health problems. Still others may end up angry at their parents for all of the medical treatments they have to endure. They can also struggle if they fear needles.

Helping your child manage these emotions is part of helping them learn to manage type 1 diabetes. Camps and support groups can help your child see that they aren’t alone. If their negative feelings persist, a therapist who specializes in youth mental health can help them process those emotions in a healthy way.

6. Make an Emergency Plan With Your Child

Make sure your child knows what to do in an emergency, including at school or elsewhere away from home, like a friend’s house. They should carry an emergency kit and know whom to talk to if their body doesn’t feel right and they need to follow their emergency care plan.

As your child grows, they can help you put this plan in place. If there’s a particular teacher or administrator your child prefers, you can enlist that adult as your child’s dedicated go-to when they aren’t feeling well. Your child also can help prepare and pack their emergency kit, so they know what’s in it and how each part should be used.

As they get even older, they can learn to check their blood glucose levels. Even if they can’t take care of themselves alone during an emergency, this skill will give them a sense of control and security.

7. Introduce Your Child to Diabetes Technology

There is an increasing body of technology available to help manage type 1 diabetes. Online tools and apps are available to help children care for themselves and calculate insulin doses.

Continuous glucose monitors — which may or may not connect to insulin pumps — can help ensure your child always gets the insulin they need without having to calculate every dose.

Technology won’t eliminate the need for you to help manage your child’s type 1 diabetes care. It can, however, help your child take over some aspects of diabetes control and management at a younger age. If your child has a blood glucose monitor/insulin combination that works for them, they won’t have to spend as much time and energy pricking their fingers and calculating doses. They should still learn these skills; they just won’t have to always rely on their own math at an early age.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myT1Dteam, the social network for people living with type 1 diabetes and their loved ones, more than 1,800 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with those who understand life with type 1 diabetes.

Are you wondering how to help your child learn to manage type 1 diabetes? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on April 11, 2024

A myT1Dteam Member

Thank you for the article and these 7 tips. This all very practical and good advice. I would like to add that while these are great starting points, when you are in the midst of these emotions nothing… read more

posted June 27
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Sarika Chaudhari, M.D., Ph.D. completed her medical school and residency training in clinical physiology at Government Medical College, Nagpur, India. Learn more about her here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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