We hit a big milestone this month: Kaitlyn learned to change her own insulin pump site!

This was a really big deal for us, because it was the last major thing she needed to learn to be able to take care of her type 1 diabetes by herself. While most kids were still learning to tie their shoes, Kaitlyn learned to test her blood sugar at about age 6. When other kids were learning to add and subtract, she learned to use her pump to bolus for food and give corrections around age 7. And when we got a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) at about age 8, she learned how to use that. She has also continuously been learning to calculate portions and count carbs.

Of course, none of these things happened without supervision and a watchful eye. She has a nurse at school watching over her and at home she has us. She still needs reminders all the time and help with the day-to-day management. But it’s been such a nice thing for her — and for us as parents — to be able to let her handle things without us pressing every button and poking every finger. It’s especially nice when we’re away from home, or if she’s at a friend’s house.

At age 11, we figured it was finally time for her to take the last step and learn how to change her pump site. She’s been ready for quite some time with the mechanics of filling the cartridge with insulin and pressing the buttons to load and prime the pump. What has really been hard for her is the actual insertion. It doesn’t hurt her very much, but the anticipation of popping the needle into her skin is just too much! She says it’s like the feeling you get before you jump off a high diving board or rip off a bandage. I think we can all relate, right?

When Kaitlyn was first diagnosed, I wanted to show her I was brave by testing my blood sugar too. So I would poke my finger with a brave face, but I have to tell you — it’s still hard for me. The anticipation of just that tiny poke is unnerving. It’s much easier having someone else do it. So, when she finally did the pump site insertion on her own, we squealed and cheered! We called Dad at work to tell him the good news, and we celebrated with a bowl of ice cream! She was so proud of herself!

So, does this mean that she’ll do all her own site changes from here on out? Probably not. In fact, when my husband and I left town for a getaway vacation recently, we left my dad in charge of changing sites. It’s nice to know that Kaitlyn could do it in an emergency, and she feels a sense of accomplishment. But we’re trying to be careful about how quickly we take the support away. It’s like learning to ride a bike: She’s pedaling on her own now, but it will be quite some time before she’s ready to graduate from her training wheels.

Diabetes independence is one of those tricky issues. It’s important for all of our kids to learn how to take care of themselves, but we don’t want to put too much pressure on them either. I’ve heard of many kids who become completely independent with their diabetes management very early on, but they don’t have the support and guidance to really learn how to do it well. I’ve also seen kids who have really struggled with doing things on their own, so much so that they feel afraid to go out on their own. College and even high school often require some independence, and without a sufficient amount of practice, the day-to-day maintenance can get overwhelming.

The road to independence is going to be different for every family. Parents and kids learn and become accustomed to routines at different paces. For our family, the recipe for success is to take little steps with lots of encouragement.

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.

Related topics:
People in the Know: Gaining Independence
How Hard Should We Push Independence?
A Year-by-Year Guide to Type 1 Self-Care

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