If you have a child with type 1 diabetes, you get it. From the funny to the truly frustrating, those little everyday challenges that diabetes brings to child-rearing are, if nothing else, unique. Here, parents share a few of the curveballs their T1D kids have lobbed at them — any of these sound familiar?

  1. When you have to look up the carb content of goat feed

“If kids eat weird things, most parents just want to know, is it safe? But being a parent of a kid with T1D means you also have to ask: How many carbs does it have? When my son was 5, we visited a farm petting zoo and were given a bag of animal feed for the goats. By the time we got to the goat pen, Keith had eaten almost the entire bag. I put my tongue on a piece — it was sweet. I found a farmhand and explained the situation. He was extremely helpful and got me the feed bag to check the label and looked up the manufacturer’s website for more information. The feed was corn-based and contained corn syrup, so no weird ingredients, but there were roughly 30 grams of carbs in the serving I determined my son must have eaten. I learned yet again that unexpected things happen with diabetes that you can never see coming. And that thankfully, almost anything — including the carb count of goat feed — can be looked up on the internet.”

—Alyssa, Massachusetts, mom of 8-year-old Keith

  1. When their hooky game is strong

“In seventh grade, our son fell into the very bad habit of using his diabetes to get out of a class at school that he found boring. The school nurse sent home a weekly log of the times my son visited her office. I noticed that he was stopping by a lot in the afternoon and called her to find out more. She told me that some days he came in saying he was feeling low (he wasn’t), other days he thought he was going high (he wasn’t), and sometimes he was just feeling blah (and everything was fine). I knew he had social studies that period, a class that he’s never really liked. It seemed pretty obvious what was going on, so we decided to cut him off at the pass. From that point forward, he would be required to go to the nurse for a preemptive check at the end of science, the class right before social studies (and a subject he loves), until we could figure out why he wasn’t feeling well in the afternoon. This new schedule lasted all of one week before he cracked and admitted that he was using his T1D as a get-out-of-class-free card. I wish I didn’t have to do things like this, but it is so important that my child understand that part of the responsibility of having diabetes is not using it as an excuse.”

—Leanne, Chicago, mom of 17-year-old Jeremy

  1. When you don’t know if it’s behavior or blood sugar

“One of the weirdest parenting situations we’ve found ourselves in is figuring out what to do when our son acts out. If he’s cranky because he is high, should he get a time-out — or get a free pass? We discussed this with our CDE [certified diabetes educator], who suggested we establish a rule to check his blood sugar first, then deal with the behavior. If he is running high, we use it as a learning opportunity that when the ‘crankies’ come on, instead of taking it out on siblings, he needs to remove himself from the situation and check his blood sugar. Once we have corrected as needed and had this conversation, he still gets a time-out because, as our diabetes educator told us, bad behavior is bad behavior. Joey may have knocked down the building-block creation his brother just spent hours making, and now his brother is howling… and all I want to do is give Joey a hug because I know how hard it is for him. It’s a tough balance! By showing consistency with ‘check first, consequence second,’ we hope that eventually he will internalize all this and become better at self-checking.”

—Sharon, East Brunswick, N.J., mom of 11-year-old Joey

  1. When carrying a bag is suddenly a drag

“As our daughter hit adolescence, her attitude towards her diabetes changed, and not in a good way. When she was younger, she would give talks to her whole class about T1D at the beginning of the year and proudly walk around with her ‘diabetes purse’ slung across her shoulder with all her supplies in it. Then in seventh grade, this ended. She didn’t want anyone to know she had T1D and completely stopped all her after-school sports and activities, because she hated having to check her blood sugar or eat a snack when others didn’t need to. She was afraid of standing out as different or weird. It took a great deal of patience and effort to get through this. We started off by having her invite one good friend to come over after school. She did all her normal care routines in front of the friend that afternoon… and her friend didn’t care! So then we had two friends come over, then she went out shopping with her friends, then she went to a school dance, and so on, until she realized that having diabetes and taking care of her diabetes in front of friends were really not a big deal.”

—Amy, Lebanon, N.H., mom of 14-year-old Abigail

  1. When you find yourself helping them eat from a bucket

“I swore that I would never allow my son to eat junk food, but as he gets older and goes out more with his friends, I have learned to accept that he is going to eat the foods his friends eat. I just need to roll with it and show him how to count the carbs so he can calculate and dose as needed. I talk about good nutrition with him whenever I get the chance, and our family meals are healthy, but I have decided to keep my eye on the bigger picture — instead of nagging. I never thought I would be helping him figure out the number of carbs in a bucket of extra spicy chicken wings! But here we are. Sneaking food and having his numbers go haywire as a result just isn’t worth a battle over eating junk food a few times a week.”

—Suzanne, Long Island, N.Y., mom of 12-year-old Ben

  1. When monsters under the bed would be a nice change

“Our daughter had a fear of needles even before she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Now that she has a disease that requires her to be poked with needles and lancets several times a day, we have had to double down on our efforts to help her overcome this fear. She uses an insulin pump, which alleviates the need to give daily shots. But for blood sugar checks, our CDE recommended having her gradually work up to being able to poke herself. She started by practicing on oranges, then a stuffed animal, and then she finally gave it a try on herself. It’s been okay since then, but it can still feel very ‘one step forward, two steps back’ sometimes, and we need to go back to practicing on the oranges. Who would have thought that her childhood fear would end up being something she needs to face every single day?”

—Wendy, Utah, mom of 7-year-old Cally

  1. When it turns out diabetes isn’t the problem

“One of the most difficult parts of parenting a child with T1D is taking a deep breath and remembering not to always look at everything through the lens of type 1 diabetes. This year, our son seemed really down at the beginning of the school year. I immediately thought, is it diabetes burnout? Is he being bullied at school because of his diabetes? Is his diabetes making him feel different or left out? I talked to his teacher, I talked to his CDE, and then I talked to him. Turns out it was none of the above. He was sad because he and his best friend are in different classes this year, and while he has other friends, he misses him! Our solution: I made a conscious effort to drop my son off at school a little earlier in the morning so he has time to play on the playground with his BFF before the bell rings. Kids are kids, and not every problem is going to be T1D-related.”

—Mark, West Chester, Pa., dad of 9-year-old Ryan

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

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Top 10 Things Never to Say to a T1D Parent

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