Caring for children

If your child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, it can seem like a huge responsibility at first. You’ll certainly need to adjust your childcare routine. It will always require some adjustment to your routine, even as your child gets older but hopefully you can develop a routine that works for you, your child and your family. 

Make sure you focus on managing the diabetes around your child’s life, not the other way around – having type 1 diabetes doesn’t stop children enjoying life or missing out on opportunities.

Your child’s needs

If your child is diagnosed soon after birth, type 1 diabetes will be a way of life from the start. For the older child, the period of change after diagnosis can be more challenging and you both may need time to understand how it changes parts of their life and yours and how you can manage it. 

There is so much to learn and manage and at first your child may feel scared and upset, and you may feel guilty and anxious – the goal is to build a relationship together that is based on caring, trust and working together.

Young type 1 patient (Suellen) sitting on bed and holding a doll

Emotional issues

Children all react differently, but most of them will need reassurance, support and understanding. Talking and listening in ways that allow them to express their feelings can help them enormously and doctors and nurses, friends and other patients in diabetes clinics and online may also help with this – don’t feel that this is your responsibility alone because there’s lots of help available.

If their language and ability to learn and understand are not fully developed, you can use stories, pictures and games to help your child learn and participate in the daily diabetes care routine. 

For sports, play, sleepovers and school trips and sugary foods, ensure your child's blood glucose is monitored and controlled – just try and encourage a healthy lifestyle and make sure medication and snacks are handy in case they are needed. Work with your diabetes team to learn how to adjust medication when they are more active during sports or play.

When your child is away from you, for school trips or sleepovers, make sure that the caregiver understands what to do in case of high or low blood sugar and is prepared to help your child with injecting and monitoring if needed.  

Practical issues

In practical terms, it will take some time to get used to monitoring your child’s blood glucose level and adjusting their food, especially carbohydrate (starchy foods), activity or insulin to maintain healthy levels. It may seem complicated at first, but with education and support, you will learn all the necessary information and skills, as well as how to get your child’s cooperation. 

Work with doctors and nurses to set individual blood glucose goals for your child and develop a care plan to organise your daily routine.

It does not have to be complicated to work out what’s needed with insulin doses or carbohydrate counting – just an understanding of basic blood glucose control. There are lots of useful tips and tools to help you do this.

If your child is sick, their blood glucose levels can alter quite dramatically. Colds and other infections can cause levels to rise, but if your child doesn’t eat or is sick or has diarrhoea, levels can fall. That’s why it’s important to check their levels more frequently than normal and adjust their insulin dosage if required.

You may also need to check their urine for ketones using urine measurement strips or their blood for ketones using a meter – without enough insulin, the body may start to burn fat for energy and this can lead to ketones or acids in the blood.  If this is not treated, it can lead to a serious condition called ketoacidosis. Call your doctor or nurse if you are uncertain about what to do.     

Young type 1 patient (Suellen) standing outside with arms raised

If you or your child struggle with giving the injections, or getting blood sugars under control, consider switching to an insulin pump, particularly while your child is young – it still needs priming and programming, but avoids a frequent injection routine. Ask for information at your diabetes clinic and read about other parents’ experiences online.

As your child grows and becomes more independent, encourage them to engage with their diabetes and self-manage their condition – it will help them to develop a sense of responsibility and enjoy their freedom away from you. 

Your needs

With so much focus on the person you care for, it’s important not to neglect yourself in the process. Don’t worry on your own – you need support too. Making contact with other parents via local support groups or social media can be a good way of getting advice, sharing feelings and developing coping strategies. Make time for yourself and ask partner, family and friends to support you.

Meet Eric and see how he manages the practical and emotional challenges of caring for his daughter Daniella.

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