When you find out your child has type 2 diabetes, you’ll have a lot of information to take in. To get your head around it, it helps to break it down into smaller pieces.
Managing diabetes comes down to four things:
- Keeping track of blood sugar levels
- Eating healthy
- Exercising every day
- Taking medication as directed
How you and your child will manage her diabetes may vary depending on whether she’s at home, school, or other places. Things will change as she gets older, too.
Your doctor will give you a target range for your child’s blood sugar level. Typically, you check it at least twice a day. You may need to check it more often. Things like exercise, eating, and medicine all affect it.
To get her levels, you use a glucose meter. It has a needle to prick your child’s finger. Then, you put a drop of blood on a strip, which goes into the meter and gives you the level. Or she can wear a continuous glucose monitor that checks her sugar levels 24 hours a day.
Meals and Snacks
Your child should eat the same healthy diet that any kid should follow, but you’ll need to pay more attention. It’s easier for your child to eat healthy foods if the whole family does, too.
To keep your child’s eating on track and blood sugar controlled:
- Work with a dietitian to create a meal plan: Three meals a day and a few scheduled snacks in between. Keep portion sizes sensible.
- Have about the same amount of carbs at each meal to help prevent blood sugar spikes after eating. Carbs affect blood sugar more than other foods do.
- Show your child how to count carbs.
- Pack your child’s school lunch. If she’s going to buy lunch, know what’s on the menu so you can better manage her insulin and rest of her meals.
- Pack boxes with juice, snacks, sugar tablets, and other things your child needs to treat low blood sugar. Put her name on the box and give one to your child, school nurse, and a teacher.
- Plan for her to eat at about the same time each day.
To help your child stay active:
- Limit screen time — like TV, smartphones, and tablets — to 1-2 hours a day.
- Make sure your child gets at least an hour of play or exercise daily. If you can, get the whole family to join in.
- Physical activity affects blood sugar, so check levels before, during, and after exercise.
- Keep supplies like a glucose meter and strips on hand along with snacks and water.
- Make sure your child, coaches, and teachers know what to do if your child gets low blood sugar during exercise or a game.
For some kids, a combination of healthy food and exercise can control diabetes. Others need to take pills to help the hormone insulin work better. Some will need insulin itself, either as a shot or through an insulin pump. Your doctor will tell you what’s right for your child. It’s important to take the pills or get injections at the right time.
Get Your Child Involved
One of the best things you can do for your child is to have her take part in managing her condition. The more she does, the more confident she’ll be.
Use your best judgment for what you think your child can handle. Even as she takes on more responsibilities, keep an eye on things and give support when needed.
At ages 3-7, she can:
- Choose which finger to use to check blood sugar levels.
- Pick where to get the insulin shot.
- Count before taking out the insulin pen or syringe.
At ages 8-11, she may:
- Give herself insulin while you watch.
- Notice low blood sugar symptoms and treat herself.
- Learn carb counting and start picking some healthy food choices.
At age 12 and up, she may:
- Check blood sugar and take insulin increasingly on her own.
- Count carbs.
- Set reminders on when to take pills or check levels.
Teen years can bring new challenges. Physical changes during puberty that can make it harder to control blood sugar. Also, weight and body image issues may start to show up. Watch your child for emotional issues, like depression and anxiety, and look out for eating disorders, too. If you have concerns, talk to her doctor. You may want to consider therapy.
Tips to Keep Your Child Safe
Follow these tips to help keep your child safe and healthy at home and at school:
- Make sure that your child wears a medical ID bracelet or necklace at all times. This is especially important when she’s not with you.
- Give the school a detailed written plan for how to manage your child’s condition, including how to give insulin injections, meal and snack schedules, and a target blood sugar range. You can create this yourself or use a template called the Diabetes Medical Management Plan.
- Create a 504 or an Individualized Education Program. These documents take what’s in your child’s diabetes medical plan and spell out the school’s responsibilities. They help keep your child safe and make sure she gets the same education and opportunities as everyone else.
- Make sure your child’s school, coaches, friends’ parents, and others know how to reach you and your child’s doctor in case of emergency.
- Teach your child, family, and anyone responsible for your child how to notice low blood sugar and what to do about it.
- Try to keep calm when your child makes mistakes managing diabetes. You need your child to feel comfortable telling you when something’s wrong instead of trying to hide it.