Diabetes Management: A Guide For Parents

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Effective diabetes management is crucial because it can improve a child’s well-being and quality of life. Careful monitoring and lifestyle adjustments are necessary when a child has diabetes.

Parents and caregivers of children with diabetes play an important role in supporting the child’s diabetes management while helping to ensure their success in navigating a chronic condition. Below are some tips and helpful information for parents and families supporting their child’s diabetes management journey.

Tips For Parents and Caregivers

Monitor signs and symptoms: Parents must regularly monitor their child’s blood sugar levels throughout the day while teaching the child the importance of establishing this daily habit. Blood sugar should be checked at least four times each day: before breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at bedtime.

Work with your child’s diabetes care team to come up with a specific monitoring plan that works best for your child based on their unique needs, lifestyle and condition. You also should understand the symptoms of high or low blood sugar. Consistent monitoring can help prevent health complications and assist in timely intervention of blood sugar regulation.

Symptoms to watch out for:

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia): Rapid heartbeat, fatigue, trembling, nausea, weakness, loss of consciousness
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia): Increased thirst, excessive urination, fatigue, blurred vision

Create a structured daily routine: Structure and routine are crucial when it comes to diabetes management. Eating, exercising and taking medications should occur at similar times every day because establishing a consistent routine can help regulate the child’s blood sugar levels. Meals and snacks should be eaten at similar times every day, and medication should be given at similar times as well.

Communicate with health care providers: Regular and open communication with your child’s care team is crucial for safe and optimal diabetes management. Stay in touch with the endocrinologist, nurse practitioner, diabetes educator, nutritionist and mental health professional. Don’t hesitate to share any challenges you or your child may be experiencing. It is important for your care team to have a realistic idea of how everything is going. They can offer additional guidance and support, as well as make adjustments to the diabetes care plan if needed. Your child’s diabetes care team is your advocate for success.

Provide emotional support for your child: Diabetes management can be difficult on a child and family. A diabetes diagnosis can mean completely changing a family’s lifestyle and eating habits. Implementing and following new routines can be challenging. Ensure that you establish a nonjudgmental space for your child to express their feelings or frustrations with diabetes management. Social workers and other members of your child’s diabetes care team can provide mental health support and suggest additional resources.

Insulin Administration

Role of insulin in managing diabetes: Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s blood sugar levels. It is necessary to survive. People with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, also called insulin dependent; people with Type 2 diabetes cannot process insulin effectively, also called insulin resistant. Both types are serious chronic conditions that require effective management. Insulin therapy often is a necessary treatment for replacing or increasing the amount of insulin the body produces.

Insulin administration methods: Insulin can be administered in several ways, including insulin injections and insulin pumps. Insulin pumps can replace the need for injections by providing a continuous supply of insulin that is programmed based on your child’s needs. Check with your child’s diabetes care team to see what method is best for your child.

Safety tips: Insulin administration requires following proper safety instructions and protocols. Check with your diabetes care team about proper insulin dispensing techniques based on the specific method your child uses. Be sure both you and your child are properly trained on insulin administration and that you feel confident in giving insulin.

Check insulin expiration dates, rotate injection sites, follow proper disposal methods, and make sure you or your child has an insulin travel kit with needed supplies at school and whenever leaving the house.

Diet and Nutrition

Importance of a balanced diet: A balanced diet is a key part of diabetes management. Healthy eating can help manage blood sugar levels. It is important to educate yourself about how different foods impact blood sugar and energy levels in the body. Carbohydrates, protein and fat impact the body differently, and your child should eat a combination of all three in each meal.

Meal planning: Foods from various food groups should be incorporated into each meal and snack. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to think about how much each food takes up a plate. When it comes to a diabetes-friendly balanced meal, half of the plate should be filled with nonstarchy vegetables (colorful vegetables that are typically found in the fresh produce section of the grocery store). Another half of the plate should be a mix of meat, fish, beans, tofu, and nuts. A piece of fruit or dairy product, such as cheese, should be eaten on the side.

Counting carbohydrates: Carbohydrate (carb) counting is a necessary part of every meal and aids in blood sugar control. Insulin dosing will be based on the carb count of each meal and snack. Become familiar with the carb counts of common foods your child eats. Select and combine items that will allow your child to remain in a healthy blood sugar range. Read food labels for total carbohydrates, which includes fiber, sugar and sugar alcohols.

Support and education: A diabetes educator will teach you how to count carbs and provide education about diabetes-friendly foods. They also will review the carb counts that are healthy for your child based on their age and condition, and provide comprehensive resources on nutrition, including sample menus.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Benefits of consistent physical activity: Regular activity and exercise are important for children with diabetes. As part of diabetes management, kids should get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise or physical activity every day.

Physical activity can come in different forms: walking, biking, hiking, running, swimming, or playing active games like tag or hide and seek. Physical activity should be fun and something the child enjoys or has an interest in. Try different activities to see what your child likes best. Don’t hesitate to join them in the fun. Physical activity can be a good bonding time for families and friends.

Safety considerations: Test your child’s blood sugar before, during and after exercise. Encourage your child to drink extra fluids. Keep sugary snacks on hand in case your child’s blood sugar drops too low. Be sure your child’s teachers or coaches are aware of their condition and have a plan for handling low blood sugar. If blood sugar levels are too high before exercise, do not participate and wait until levels are in a healthy range.

Talk to your child’s diabetes care team about adjusting their nutrition and insulin management to take into account how insulin levels are impacted by physical activity.

Exercise helps diabetes management: Physical activity is great for everyone, and especially for those with Type 2 diabetes, as exercise increases the number of insulin receptors on cells, which can improve insulin uptake in the body.

Children with Type 1 diabetes can receive additional support through the Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program, which provides special monitoring and education for patients who participate in sports.

Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels

Regular monitoring: Frequent blood sugar monitoring is a necessary part of diabetes management. While achieving normal levels can take a lot of work, it can be done! Families should support children in keeping their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Your child’s diabetes care team will counsel you on the target range specific to your child.

A safe target range for blood sugar levels will depend on the child’s age and development. Normal fasting blood sugar is 70 to 100 mg/dL; normal after-meal blood sugar is 70 to 140 mg/dL.
There are different methods and devices available to monitor blood sugar. Your child’s diabetes care team will help you select the method that is best for them.

Blood sugar meters with fingerstick devices are used to prick the finger. A single drop of blood can be tested within seconds. A continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device provides regular, real-time readings throughout the day and night via a sensor inserted under the skin. These readings are sent to an insulin pump or cellphone to alert changes in blood sugar levels.

Interpreting readings: Be sure to track every blood sugar reading in a log. Learning how to interpret these readings can help your child stay within their target range. Your child’s diabetes care team will offer education and guidance on how and when to take action to correct blood sugar, including insulin dosages and dietary changes.

Diabetes management comes with new habits, routines and awareness. Although it may seem overwhelming at first, know that plenty of children and families successfully self-manage diabetes with confidence. Your diabetes care team is here to guide and encourage you every step of the way.

Norton Children’s and Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute Help You and Your Child Manage Diabetes

USNWR best hospitals for diabetes & endocrinology and DNV certification for glycemic management are shown
  • Norton Children’s is recognized as a top pediatric diabetes and endocrinology program in the U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals rankings.
  • Once your child’s pediatrician makes a referral, you’ll have quick access to a team of board-certified endocrinologists and advanced practice providers offering comprehensive diabetes care.
  • Next-day, urgent appointments are available.
  • Diabetes educators, nurses, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, child life specialists, exercise physiologists and nurse practitioners help children and families manage diabetes.
  • Our nutrition program gives families hands-on experience planning and cooking diabetes-friendly meals and snacks.
  • Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program focuses on improving the health, safety and athletic performance of children and young adults with diabetes.
  • As your child grows and gains more independence, our providers help prepare them for managing diabetes while at college or living on their own. This program is available to teenagers and young adults from ages 16 to 26.
  • The Novak Center for Children’s Health is equipped to provide imaging, labs and appointments all in the same location.
  • Medicaid and most major commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Keep up with your child’s lab results, communicate with your provider, schedule appointments and get alerted if an earlier appointment becomes available with Norton MyChart.

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