I love getting advice from type 1 diabetes families who you might say are “seasoned” in the diabetes parenting world — parents who have been there and done that. It’s awesome to get the perspective from people who have successfully raised their kids into adulthood while dealing with the disease for many, many years, some starting when their kids were very young. Yes, the technology has changed over the years — quite a bit, in fact — but one thing remains constant, and that is the importance of teaching kids to be involved in their care.
I have gotten quite a bit of feedback as I have shared my ideas about caring for young kids with diabetes, and what I hear from seasoned parents is that the more we can involve our kids in their own care, the better. I’m not just talking about the mechanics of taking care of diabetes (how to test blood sugar, use a pump, count carbs, etc.). I think the greatest value comes from teaching our kids to read their own bodies. I’m hoping that through the years, Kaitlyn will learn to recognize her highs and lows, understand what she needs to do when her body is a little “off,” trust herself and her instincts, and have a deep desire to do the things that will help her be healthy.
Sometimes I think we get a little caught up in the whole technology aspect of diabetes care, and although there are many important tools, there is nothing that perfectly matches the skill of learning your body’s signals. Technology can fail or be ignored, but if a child develops the skill of recognizing when they feel healthy and the desire to keep it that way, then that developed intuition can stay with them for life. Besides, what good is technology if our children are not willing to pay attention to it, or if they don’t care enough about their bodies to do the things that will help them feel good and be healthy? I’ve heard about teens mismanaging diabetes as a way to rebel against their parents. We haven’t gotten into the teenage years yet, but many parents have told me that that is when the diabetes game really begins.
I am certainly not suggesting that we get rid of all our pumps, kits, and continuous glucose monitors. I wouldn’t trade these for anything! My hope is that as we use the technology, we can have our kids perform sense checks: How am I feeling? Does the number make sense? If not, maybe I should check again. It can even be made into a game — Kaitlyn will sometimes try to guess her number before she checks to see how close she is.
If you’re reading this and have a very young child, don’t stress about this too much! I know that when Kaitlyn was first diagnosed as a 3-year-old, she could barely recognize or explain basic feelings like frustration or anger, let alone talk to me about blood sugar numbers. Don’t worry! More and more, kids will learn to trust themselves, and you will learn to trust them with their care. It will be some time before I will be able to completely hand over the reins to Kaitlyn, but I know we’re moving in the right direction.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.