My office used to receive phone calls about once a week asking if we held support groups for kids with diabetes. I had honestly never thought to have one. Why would any kid want to come to a support group when there are cartoons to watch and siblings to torment? But finally, I agreed to give it a shot.
It was an epic failure and a rousing success all wrapped up in one.
The kids were miserable. They ranged in age from 4 to 14, which may have accounted for some of the struggles I and my staff had in getting them focused. As much as we tried to engage them in fun social activities, the younger ones were incapable of holding still, and the older ones slouched in their chairs with looks on their faces suggesting thoughts such as, “This is stupid. I’d rather be on Facebook.” About the only time they would look up was to check the clock.
The parents, on the other hand, had the time of their lives. We had coffee and snacks for them in the other room, and I could hear them laughing and carrying on. Some of the snippets of conversation I overheard stuck in my brain:
“…you wouldn’t believe the food stash I found under his bed…”
“…if she remembered her meter like she remembered her cell phone…”
“…anyone else have bloody test strips all over their house?…”
“…we change his pump while he’s sleeping so we don’t have to sit on him…”
“…exercise? You’ve got to be kidding…”
All things considered, it was some of the best venting I had heard since the HVAC convention was in town. It was then that we decided to give the kids a reprieve and instead start a support group for parents of kids with diabetes.
For years, the group met, shared some things, learned some things, and taught me a thing or two. I already understood how complex it can be to manage diabetes in a growing child, having worked with so many over the years. (I was lucky enough to be diagnosed at age 18.) But I also learned that parenting a child with diabetes is very different from having diabetes. For example, when my blood glucose level is high or low, I deal with it and move on. But when their child’s blood glucose level is high or low, most parents become frustrated, dwell on it, and feel a bit guilty.
One of our most productive parents’ meetings was an impromptu discussion of tips for a family dealing with a recent diabetes diagnosis. From that discussion (and with a bit of refinement on my part), we developed our own “Top Ten” list of techniques for managing blood glucose in kids. (Most of the same principles can be applied by adults managing their own Type 1 diabetes.) It goes something like this:
10. Persistence pays
Parenting is a never-ending challenge, and so is diabetes care. Parents need to stay involved in their child’s management even when he is old enough and mature enough to perform many of his daily self-management rituals on his own. Your involvement keeps your child accountable and on his toes.
That’s not to say that the parent who usually oversees the diabetes tasks can never take a break. Ask someone else to help handle your tasks or oversight for a day or two. And give your child opportunities to indulge in favorite foods or ease back on exercise, record-keeping, and frequent blood glucose monitoring once in a while. Just don’t ever miss the basic things that keep him out of immediate danger: taking insulin, and checking blood glucose at least a few times each day.
9. Build structure
Maintaining daily routines helps to keep blood glucose levels in target range. But it can be a challenge, because we all know about the odd appetites, habits, and assortment of activities that pervade kids’ lives. The fact remains, however, that kids thrive in a structured environment. So look for ways to have your child eat meals at consistent times, play or exercise at regular intervals, and go to bed and get up at about the same times each day. In addition, check blood glucose levels, take insulin, change pump infusion sets, and so on on a schedule. The more consistent your child’s daily life, the more consistent and predictable his blood glucose levels will be.