Understanding Diabetes

Help, my child has diabetes!

The diagnosis of diabetes in your child

A childThe diagnosis of diabetes or indeed any chronic illness in your child will almost certainly be a time of extreme stress for you. You may find that much of the day to day management of your child’s condition is placed on yourself, as he or she is too young to care for themselves. The discomfort and anxiety surrounding blood testing and injections doesn’t help either. You may feel guilty or angry that your child has been singled out for this condition.

This leaflet will help you deal with some of the concerns you may have when your child is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Dealing with insulin injections in children

Administering insulin injections and monitoring blood sugars may seem daunting at first but with help from the diabetes nurses who you meet, this will soon become second nature.

It may help if you understand that insulin injection are not particularly painful. They are certainly a lot less painful than having a blood sample drawn or having an intramuscular injection. It may surprise you to learn that many children quickly become adept at administering their own insulin injections.

Dealing with diet in children

Ideally the whole family should take the opportunity to eat a healthier diet. Some planning may be necessary at first.

You will have to restrict your child’s intake of sweets or chocolates. They may feel this is ‘unfair’ especially if they are very fond of sweets. Restrictions may be seen as a form of ‘punishment’ by very young children. Allow other treats by way of compromise.

In dietary terms, fat is now seen as a greater villain than sugar. It may take some persuasion to reduce your childs intake of fries and crisps while increasing his or her intake of fruit and veg.

What problems can I expect?

  • Everyone is different but children in particular find this hard to cope with any restrictions imposed upon them. You may want to protect your child from feeling ‘different’ to other children. Allow them to be involved in everything their friends are as much as possible. This particularly applies to sports.
  • You will have to learn how to recognise and deal with hypoglycaemia. This may include having to teach other family members, baby sitters and your child’s friends how to recognise the symptoms.
  • Times of illness will become more stressful as blood sugars may fluctuate and ketones may be present
  • Planning holidays and excursions may seem very complicated
  • Participation in sports at school may require variations in dose of insulin. Exercise is to be encouraged and this possibility of hypos should not deter your child from participating in sports.
  • Having teenage children who have diabetes presents a new set of challenges for parents. This subject is addressed on a separate page.

What are the solutions?

  • Involve your child in his/her diabetes care – having ownership of his condition helps. Avoid being the controlling parent!
  • Convince your family to change to a ‘healthy diet’. If you all eat together it will be easier for your child to get used to healthy eating. It also helps encourage regular meal times. Plan snacks and avoid junk food yourself. Teach your child about food choices at school.
  • Take up physical exercise. If your family is active your child will learn that exercise can be fun. Walk or ride, don’t drive. Turn your child’s diagnosis into a positive outcome for yourself by making the same lifestyle changes
  • Discourage ‘couch potato’ behaviour. If your child is obese, help him lose weight.
  • Increase awareness of diabetes among family and close friends. Don’t try to keep it a secret. Your child needs to know that diabetes is not something to be ashamed of. Enlist the help of the school nurse to improve awareness among classmates and teachers where appropriate, but strike a balance with your child’s right to privacy.
  • Make sure close friends know what a hypo is as your child grows up and goes out independently.

Where can I get more information?

Help and information should always be available from your child’s diabetes care team.

Dr Nishan Wijenaike
Consultant Diabetologist
West Suffolk Diabetes Service
Updated: November 2007