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Diabetes type 1 means the body can't produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. It's one of the most prevalent chronic childhood illnesses and the number of young children being diagnosed is rising.

For a child, diabetes can be overwhelming. They may feel isolated from their peers, frightened of checking their blood sugar, and frustrated by adjusting their diet. Chronic illness places new pressures on the entire family. Every family has a unique set of resources and limitations, but these tips may be useful in supporting a child with diabetes.

Be Transparent

By talking openly about what's happening to their body and allowing the child to ask questions, parents can learn about their child's feelings and correct any misunderstandings.

Children might blame themselves. A child might worry that they're dying while a teen may underestimate the risks. Honest, age-appropriate conversations demystify the illness and help minimize guilt, confusion, and fear.

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Remain Calm

It's understandable for a parent to be frightened or angry, especially when a child does something that puts their health in danger. But children with diabetes are still children. They eat foods they shouldn't, forget (or refuse) to exercise some days, and resist blood sugar checks. When parents take setbacks in stride, it helps children to be more honest and resilient.

mother talking to to child who is upset fizkes / Getty Images

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Adjust Finger Pricks and Shots

Toddlers especially may resist shots and finger pricks. Provide care in a routine, soothing manner. It's less painful to take blood from the side of the finger, away from the nail, than from the fingertip.

Try letting the child decide which finger to use. Some glucose readers can even take blood from less sensitive parts of the body, like the arm. If you're nervous about administering the shots, work on becoming more comfortable and confident so your fear doesn't rub off on your child.

A young diabetic patient sitting on his mother's lap takes a blood sugar test to monitor his blood glucose levels Fertnig / Getty Images

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Involve The Child in Their Care Plan

Young children can help prepare meals by stirring or cutting soft foods with a toddler-safe knife. As kids grow, they can learn to count carbohydrates and choose from a selection of approved meals.

Exercise can take the form of team sports or solitary aerobics, depending on their preference. Starting with small decisions and working up can help a child eventually manage their diabetes on their own.

boy cuts cucumber slices with a knife in the kitchen under the supervision of his mother ABRAHAM GONZALEZ FERNANDEZ / Getty Images

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Set Reasonable Boundaries

Children with diabetes can do all the same activities as other kids. Parents may, however, need to set additional rules to keep them safe. Rules depend on the child. A teen who struggles to manage their diabetes care consistently needs a different set of boundaries than a responsible nine-year-old.

Common rules include having children set phone reminders to check their blood sugar, finding a responsible adult to be present and aware of their diabetes, and keeping emergency treatments on hand at all times.

teenager boy is using smartphone at home EMS-FORSTER-PRODUCTIONS / Getty Images

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Provide Positive Role Models

Children with diabetes type 1 are slightly more likely to have family members with diabetes, but in many cases they're the only one. As such, they might feel isolated or even bullied by their peers.

Parents can help by teaching their children about successful people with diabetes, getting books featuring diabetic protagonists, and encouraging schools to do the same. Diabetes support networks can provide children with a sense of community, including mentors who understand their experiences.

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Handle Sibling Rivalry

Siblings may feel abandoned when their brother or sister is diagnosed with diabetes. Children with diabetes might envy their healthy siblings and the normal life they seem to have.

It's important to validate both emotions. It's not okay for siblings to hurt or harass one another, but it's okay to feel jealous. The situation isn't fair. As much as possible, set aside time for each child to bond with their parents and feel valued.

Smiling mother and children at beach Kentaroo Tryman / Getty Images

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Get Other Adults on Board

Grandparents, teachers, coaches, and babysitters should all be aware of a child's diabetes, how to handle an emergency, and any dietary needs. Trusted adults can also help normalize diabetes for the child's peers.

Parents who are overwhelmed might ask a trusted friend or relative to relay the information or, if a child is old enough, they might want to tell people.

Family gathering at sofa mihailomilovanovic / Getty Images

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Be There For Them

Teenagers, especially teenagers who've had type 1 diabetes for years, may manage their illness by themselves. Peer pressure, however, combined with teenage feelings of invulnerability may lead teens to neglect their diabetes care.

Have open conversations about drugs, sexuality, social pressure, and how all these things can be affected by their diabetes. Above all, be a safe place for them when an issue inevitable arises.

Mom helps teen overwhelmed by her problems SDI Productions / Getty Images

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Reach Out for Help

Raising a child with a chronic illness isn't easy. Sometimes parents will need to put themselves and their other relationships first. This could mean leaving the child with a responsible babysitter, going out on dates, or spending time with friends.

Parents might need to let go of certain aspects of diabetes care once the child has mastered them. It's hard. It can feel selfish to put yourself first and relinquish some control to a capable child, but a fulfilled parent provides the best care.

A women waves goodbye to her mother and son from across the street as she leaves the house. SolStock / Getty Images

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.