Naturally, you want to do as much as you can to help manage your child’s type 1 diabetes, especially if he or she is newly diagnosed and you’re both still figuring it all out. But it’s never too early to start involving kids in their own care. There are ways that even the littlest kids can participate, and doing so can pay off in a big way — in helping to build a sense of competence, independence, and some control over what’s happening to them.

Of course, handing over the reins, even incrementally, can be nerve-wracking — probably much more so for you than your child! “Parents are scared the child won’t do something right and it will have consequences,” says Nicole Bereolos, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes care and education specialist. “They also want to make things as easy as possible on their child, so they try to take on as much of the load as they can.”

But here’s the thing: type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition, and it’s important to think about the bigger picture. “When your child goes off into the world, you want them to know how to make decisions for themselves,” says Bereolos. “And if they have a problem when they’re not at home, you want them to be able to solve it and not panic.”

So how do you teach your child to gradually manage more and more of their own diabetes care? It’s all about choosing age-appropriate skills and making it a natural part of your daily lives. Keep reading for ideas of some specific tasks children may be able to take on with your supervision, depending on how old they are.

Age 3 to 9:

•           Put away foods used to treat low blood sugar when you come home from the grocery store

•           Open boxes of diabetes supplies when they arrive and put the products away where they belong

•           Go get supplies like alcohol swabs, cartridges, and infusion sets when it’s time to change sites

•           Pick the new spot for their site change and clean the area with an alcohol swab

•           Choose which finger to stick when it’s time to check blood sugars

•           Push the button on the lancing device for blood sugar checks

•           Measure out portions of food using measuring cups and spoons

•           Tell you how many units of insulin they think they will need for foods they eat often

•           Help you pack their diabetes bag and choose which foods to include for treating lows

Age 10 to 13:

•           Get the insulin into the syringe and remove the air bubbles

•           Inject the insulin into the cartridge

•           Push the button to place devices during site changes

•           Choose portions of foods and serve themselves

•           Look up carb counts for foods on a nutrition app

•           Tell you how many carbs are in their meal

•           Tell you how many units of insulin they need based on the carb counts

•           Tell you what they should do if they go high or low

•           Be in charge of packing their diabetes bag (you can still check to make sure all the supplies are there before they head out the door)

Age 14 to 18:

•           Do site changes independently

•           Decide what to eat and how much insulin they need

•           Bolus for meals and treat highs and lows (check in often to make sure this is happening)

•           Pack their diabetes bag (don’t check it anymore — if they run into a problem because they forgot something, they need to know what to do)

•           Reorder diabetes supplies

•           Schedule endocrinologist appointments (have them listen on the phone a few times when you do it so they know what to say)

•           Go to the endocrinologist by themselves (or, have them go in alone for the first half of the appointment and then join for the second half to make sure you don’t miss anything important)

•           Help you handle insurance issues if there’s an error (again, have them listen in on phone calls with the insurance company first so they understand what to do)

Don’t think of this list as set in stone. These are just suggestions, and each child will progress at different speeds through these tasks. “Every family is different and some kids will want to do more and other kids don’t want to think about it,” says Bereolos. “If you try to move through these skills too quickly, your child may get overwhelmed and pull away.” And if you aren’t sure what your child can handle, bring it up during your next doctor’s appointment to get personalized guidance.

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.