How To Provide Support for Children With Diabetes: Tips on Helping a Child Cope With Diabetes for Life

Types of Diabetes in Children

The carbohydrates that you consume provide a level of glucose in the bloodstream. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin that allows the glucose to provide food to the brain and become energy for the body's cells and organs.

Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, is most commonly diagnosed in young children and adolescents. In this type of diabetes, the pancreas stops secreting insulin altogether, and the child becomes dependent on insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes because it was most commonly seen in older adults. With society's changing lifestyles that include a fast-food diet and lack of physical activity, obesity — one of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes — has become rampant and the number of cases of type 2 diabetes has skyrocketed, particularly among children.

Although type 2 diabetics may need only oral medications or no drugs at all, both types of diabetes require lifestyle changes that include a heart-healthy diet and consistent physical activity. Providing support to children with diabetes takes a little bit of foresight but is well worth the effort.

Getting Over Needle Phobia

For children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, coming to grips with the fact that they will be subject to several needles each and every day is always frightening and usually overwhelming for both parent and child.There is a way to ensure that you will both emerge from the trauma without any lasting damage.

Start by ensuring that your child's doctor has given you a prescription for juvenile syringes, as diameter of the needle is very small and it will cause the least amount of pain. Have your child hold the syringe, touch it and get comfortable with it. If necessary, prick yourself with one of the unfilled syringes to show him that you are both in this together.

Acknowledge your child's fears and resist any and all attempts to tell them not to be "a baby." Do not bribe them to take the injection or you can easily get caught in a circle of ongoing manipulation. Allow your child to make as many decisions as possible. Although he cannot decide when to take the injection, he can certain choose where (thigh, arm or abdomen) and in what situation (watching a cartoon or lying in bed.)

At the very beginning, use an ice cube held on the skin for a few minutes on the injection site to numb it. Avoid using numbing creams. They may cut down on the pain from the needle, but often cause stinging after the injection that can be just as bad as the needle itself.

Discuss the idea of an insulin pump with your child. It will do a better job of managing blood glucose levels and your child can avoid daily injections for the most part.

Can I Have Some Ice Cream?

Management of diabetes has come a long way. There was a time when sugar was completely forbidden from a diabetic's diet, but that is not the case any more. The American Diabetes Association states that sweets and sugary desserts are fine as long as they are part of a healthy diet and a lifestyle that includes consistent physical activity.

That doesn't mean that your child can raid the cookie jar at whim, however, and you should become familiar with the three basic meal planning techniques for diabetics: the exchange meal plan, constant carbohydrates and carbohydrate counting. If your child is old enough, discuss the options with her and let her be an integral part of the plan you decide upon. Get younger children involved by having them draw pictures of the foods they should limit, the foods that are healthy and "free" foods that they can snack on when they are hungry.

Lack of Exercise Is Not An Option

If you are the parent of a couch potato, it's time to get creative as physical activity is an integral part of diabetes management. Try getting the whole family involved with a walk each night together after dinner or doing yard work together on the weekends. If your child is not fond of team sports, find individual sports that he can enjoy. Get him a membership to a local rock climbing arena, get him a new bicycle or bring home a game console, like the Wii Fit, that will have your child exercising and playing video games at the same time.

Fitting In

Depending on your child's age, peer pressure can be overwhelming. Make arrangements at school for her to have a free pass to the nurse's office whenever she needs to test her blood, take insulin or if she feels her blood glucose levels dipping low. Give each teacher an emergency pack that includes juice boxes, candies and glucose tablets, along with a little bit of education and insight.

If your child is on a sports team where blood glucose monitoring is essential, introduce the topic to them by serving up some sugar-free ice cream bars and allowing each one of them to test their own blood, making sure to change the lancet after each child uses it. Arrange a special signal with the coach, like two hands above the head, so that your child can discreetly signal that she needs to come out of a game without drawing attention to herself.

At home, start having family meals if you aren't already, and make sure that you serve the same foods to everyone so that your child knows that she really isn't different after all.

Sources

TeensHealth from Nemours: Meal Plans and Diabetes

American Diabetes Association: Diabetes Myths