Everyone needs some space now and then. But it’s hard to feel very independent when your parents keep an eagle eye on everything you eat, come with you to birthday parties and field trips, and insist on poking you with sharp objects at regular intervals throughout each day. That’s why parents of children with type 1 diabetes may have to go the extra mile to help their children cultivate a sense of independence — even when so much is controlled by mom and dad. Here are eight ways to do just that.

  1. Involve Kids in Diabetes Self-care. “Education is the key,” says certified diabetes educator Vandana Sheth, R.D. “Getting children involved in the process will allow them a greater sense of control and increase their confidence in diabetes management.” Find age-appropriate steps here.
  2. Give Sleepovers a Trial Run. Staying over at friends’ houses has helped 12-year-old Olivia Spradlin feel more independent. “I’ve gotten to spend the night with a few friends as long as my parents trusted their parents and I checked in with them throughout the evening,” she says. “But if I don’t call them before bed, I’m in trouble!”
  3. Point Them in the Right Direction. Provide tools that will help children deal with their diabetes on their own, suggests Sheth. Show them trustworthy diabetes websites and allow them to communicate, with supervision, with other children with type 1 using social media. “Invest in technology such as smart phones with diabetes-related apps,” Sheth advises. For example, there is an app that allows kids to record blood glucose levels, insulin injections, food eaten, and exercise completed, so they can learn to stay on track.
  4. Plan for Spontaneity. Cara Gianni, whose 9-year-old son Milo was diagnosed with type 1 last year, says putting him in charge of essential supplies has made him less dependent on mom and dad, so he can make more social plans on his own. “We created a ‘to go’ pack with a meter, insulin, and alcohol swabs inside, and he has to have it every time he’s out of the house,” she explains. “He keeps it in his backpack at school so that if he goes to a last-minute playdate, he always has what he needs.”
  5. Allow Time to Connect With Peers. Help your child meet other children who understand type 1 diabetes or are in the same boat. “Check out diabetes support groups and encourage interactions with positive role models,” Sheth advises. Bonding with others who understand their situation will help children boost feelings of self-worth.
  6. Get Cooking! “Get kids involved in the planning of meals and snacks — from shopping to preparation to cooking,” she recommends. Teaching kids to cook and allowing them to make some of the choices for family meals will give them a sense of responsibility and encourage them to eat well, to boot. That extra help you get in the kitchen is just an added bonus.
  7. Encourage Extracurricular Activities. Even though parents might be nervous about it, children with type 1 can participate in (and excel at) almost every sport. “I play softball and basketball, and my parents have always let me follow my dreams,” says Spradlin. “I’m now a champion softball player who’s been to the World Series® two times and was a World Series MVP.”
  8. Prepare Them for Important Decisions. What would your teen do if he was offered alcohol? Find out. “Role-play situations to encourage children to practice decision-making,” Sheth says. Go over possible reactions and guide them to make the smartest choices. You’ll feel more comfortable letting your child spend more time on his or her own knowing that when a real sticky situation arises, he or she knows the right thing to do.

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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More Independence topics:
A Year-by-Year Guide to Type 1 Self-Care
When Tweens Become Teens: Parental Guidance Suggested

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