Raising a child with type 1 diabetes can be challenging. It’s normal for both parents and children to have many questions, feel confused, or simply feel overwhelmed.
The first step in managing type 1 diabetes is understanding it. Learning more about diabetes can help your child to stay happy and healthy.
What is type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition. In this condition, the cells in the pancreas that make insulin are destroyed. As a result, the body can’t produce insulin.
Type 1 diabetes is much less common than type 2 diabetes. Only 5-10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, though incidence is on the rise.
It used to be called juvenile diabetes because it’s usually diagnosed in children and young adults. However, type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age. The majority (85%) of people living with type 1 diabetes are adults.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes may include:
- being hungrier or thirstier than usual
- feeling weak or tired
- weight loss
- urinating more often or wetting the bed
- blurry vision
- mood changes
What are the treatment options?
Children with type 1 diabetes will need to test their blood sugar regularly. Many children may benefit from a continuous glucose monitor to keep better track of their sugar levels.
Children will also need to take insulin. There are four types of insulin:
Your child’s doctor will decide on the right type of insulin. They will educate you on how and when to take it. Your child’s doctor may also prescribe additional medications to help manage your child’s diabetes.
It’s common for parents and children to have questions about insulin injections. Younger children will need a parent or other responsible adult to give them the medication. Older children and teenagers are usually able to give the injections to themselves.
Most children adjust well to insulin injections. Keep in mind that children learn how to react from adults. You are their role model. You can keep an upbeat attitude by staying calm, relaxed, and positive about your child’s insulin routine. If a babysitter, grandparent, or other adult regularly cares for your child, that person should learn how to give the insulin injections as well.
Learning to use insulin
Your doctor or nurse can teach you how to correctly give your child insulin. Make sure to contact them if you have any questions or concerns.
Many hospitals also have a diabetes educator on staff. Diabetes educators are nurses who specialize in working with patients with diabetes. They’re a great source of information about insulin and any other diabetes questions you or your child may have.
The key to using insulin correctly is knowing your blood sugar levels. Your child will need to use fingerstick tests frequently to keep track of their levels. Your child may also need to use a continuous glucose monitor.
Insulin pumps are another option for children with type 1 diabetes. These are small machines that can be worn on the waistband that automatically deliver your child’s insulin. Some families find them more convenient than traditional insulin injections.
What should my child with type 1 diabetes eat?
Children with diabetes can usually eat the same healthy foods as everyone else. The key is to feed your child a sensible and nutritious diet. Include plenty of fruits and veggies, along with some foods from each food group.
It’s also important for children who are taking insulin to eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates with each meal. This will make sure their blood sugar doesn’t drop too low. Healthy carbohydrate choices include beans, veggies, and whole grains.
Foods that your child should avoid include sugary drinks such as juice and soda, foods with lots of added sugar and salt, and unhealthy fats. A treat every now and then is fine, though.
Consistency is also important. Make sure that your child eats regularly at about the same time each day. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a dietician if you or your child has questions about healthy eating for type 1 diabetes.
Can my child play sports?
The simple answer is yes. Children with type 1 diabetes can participate in all of the same physical activities as their friends and classmates. Exercise can control blood sugar and help prevent some diabetes complications.
A good goal for children with diabetes is 60 minutes of physical activity each day. However, exercise can sometimes cause blood sugar levels to become too low.
Here are a few things you should do to make physical activity safe for your child:
- If your child is on a sports team, make sure the coach knows that they have diabetes.
- Pack a bag with insulin and supplies for managing low blood sugar.
- Keep in mind that your child may need to have a snack before exercising.
- Make sure your child wears a medical ID bracelet at all times.
How can my child stay healthy at school?
It’s important that type 1 diabetes is managed 24 hours a day, even while your child is at school. Most schools are used to teaching children with special health needs.
Teachers can work with you to make sure that your child stays healthy during the school day. You can meet with the school at the beginning of the year to create a diabetes management plan. Talk to workers at the school about signs and symptoms of diabetes, and how they manage children with health needs. Also, create a plan for keeping your child healthy on field trips and during after-school activities.
The school nurse can help your child with insulin injections and other medications. You should also make sure to put a diabetes supply kit in your child’s backpack. If your child eats lunch in the school cafeteria, look at the menu together each week and help them to make healthy food choices. Your child may also need to eat snacks during the school day to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
Parenting a child with type 1 diabetes isn’t always easy. Learning all you can about the disease can help your child to stay happy, healthy, and active.
Work with your child’s teachers and their diabetes doctor, and make sure your child has yearly checkups with a pediatrician. You can also help keep your child healthy by making sure they have all of their recommended vaccinations.