Helping children with diabetes is a challenge for most parents. You may feel guilty or angry (sometimes both) and you may become over protective or very critical. This may result in asking your child to take on too much responsibility before they are ready, or may squash their expression of interest in helping with diabetes related tasks.
Common questions asked are:
- When should my child take on more responsibility?
- Am I asking too much or too little?
All children are different – what works for one child may not work for another.
By the time your child is 8 years old they will usually have the skills to physically do the task but not the maturity and knowledge to take on full responsibility. Taking on some of this responsibility requires that your child learns more about diabetes.
Group sessions with children of a similar age may help. Check what is available through your diabetes team.
There is no special age when your child should give their own injections/work their pump.
Health professionals agree that by age 11–13 years, most children can perform most diabetes related tasks but this varies from child to child. As a guide, a child of 10 may be giving the injection and at 11 they may be drawing/dialling up the insulin. If your child refuses to give their own insulin – reduce the steps to one at a time, encouraging your child to join in at each point, but allowing them to ‘opt out’.
The steps could be:
- Check the dosage
- Dial up the insulin
- Select the injection site
- Inject the insulin
These steps may need to be introduced a few days apart and should be done when you have time to spare and you’re not too rushed – on weekends for example.
Sharing tasks between both parents and the child is useful – for example
Mum a.m., Dad p.m., child on weekends. Often children will be keen to help.
Concentrate on your child learning one task at a time, otherwise demands are too great and your child will be confused and unwilling to stick at it.
Your child’s skills may not be as good as your own, so patience is needed to increase their confidence. This is another reason for choosing a less rushed time of the day to try out new steps and tasks.
Encourage involvement when your child shows an interest in learning new tasks. It’s still important to observe your child’s ability and technique to avoid possible mistakes and short cuts. Aim to be positive and focus on the things they do well.
Make it clear to your child that you will slowly introduce responsibility, and that you realise they may sometimes need a break. Let them know that you will help them with diabetes tasks for short periods of time.
It’s very easy for you as a parent to carry on doing everything for your child whether they have diabetes or not, but it is vital for your child’s self-esteem and confidence, and your sanity, that you encourage the beginnings of self-care.
Some children do not want anyone outside the family to know that they have diabetes. However, it may be helpful for your child to tell their close friends what to do, especially if a hypo occurs when they are at school.
Your child will need the help of their peers and may need a guiding hand to deal with classmates and friends.
Some children may be happy to ‘show and tell’ about having diabetes.
If your child has had diabetes from an early age they may have told everyone – a lot depends on their personality. Other children may be more private in which case your advice as to how to go about telling their friends may be helpful. Together you can practice what to say.
Your child might like to do a school project on diabetes to tell their classmates how it is to have diabetes – for example, they could show how they use their meter. This may increase confidence through teaching their friends.
School events may motivate your child to help in self-care – for example, learning to correctly treat hypos so that they may attend sports events or school excursions.
Your child may be keen to sleep-over at a friend or relative’s house which may provide a gentle push to take on responsibility for some diabetes related tasks – seize every opportunity you can.
Having a small group of your child’s close friends see how the equipment is used, and directing simple, age appropriate discussion can help the more sensitive child.
Education days or support groups may be organised by your local diabetes centre to help you and your child meet other children with diabetes and their parents.
Camps are invaluable to help you and your child feel less isolated. In some states there are parent/child weekend camps which provide an introduction to the concept of the camping experience. Your child may then graduate to other camps throughout their childhood right up to adolescence.
Contact Diabetes NSW or Diabetes Australia in other states for information about camps.