The Art Of Parenting A Child Living With Type 1 Diabetes
Parenting is so easy, said no one ever. When you’re the parent of a child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, no matter at what age, things can get a little more challenging. However, with an estimated annual global incidence of almost 129 000 new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes in people under 20 years old,1 you’re in good company. After some quick maths, that’s about 258 000 parents suddenly finding themselves with a child (or young adult) now living with type 1 diabetes. While there are no official rules on parenting a child living with type 1 diabetes (even a comprehensive handbook on parenting, in general, would be useful), there are some tips to consider that may help make your life a little easier.
5 Tips When Your Child Lives With Type 1 Diabetes
1. When you’re afraid of a hypo at night (or any time).
Your child experiencing a potentially life-threatening hypoglycaemic episode (hypo) when you’re not nearby can be a significant fear for many parents.2 Other than shadowing your child everywhere they go and sharing a bed with them at night (your teenager might have something to say about that), diabetes technology can be your next best guardian angel. Many insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGM) come with an automated insulin suspension feature if it detects your child is approaching a low. Some CGM systems can even allow you to monitor from afar with a compatible smartphone.
2. When your child decides finger pricks aren’t fun.
Multiple daily finger pricks aren’t fun even for adults, so who can blame them? If finger pricks are causing your child more distress than they’re worth, now could be a good time to consider CGM. While there is still the occasional finger prick required with a CGM, as a significant added bonus, the monitor provides real-time information and trends on blood glucose (BG) levels. Furthermore, the use of CGM has been associated with improved HbA1c measurements.3
3. When your child is a fussy eater.
Suddenly needing to become an expert in carbohydrate counting can be a challenge, especially if your child has very specific (and sometimes peculiar) food preferences. Different parenting philosophies may vary in their opinion on how to approach fussy eating, but you may want to consider techniques such as a reward system for finishing a meal or offering two (healthy) food options to let the child feel in control. If you have an older child, you may want to appeal to their reason by explaining why it’s important to eat regular meals including a balanced amount of carbohydrates to support growth and fuel their active days.
4. When you’re worried about your child at childcare/pre-school/school.
Letting your child out of sight can be a source of stress, especially if they’re living with type 1 diabetes. It can be difficult to entrust the care of your child to another person, which often intensifies the feeling of a lack of freedom.2 Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child and ensure that his or her educators and supervisors are well aware of what’s involved in caring for a child living with type 1 diabetes. It may mean organising a meeting with the teachers to explain some of the diabetes self-care actions your child may need to undertake in the classroom, or how to recognise and treat a hypo.
5. When your child is averse to following treatment.
In the medical world, this is known as “treatment nonadherence”. It can encompass many situations, such as refusing insulin, avoiding BG tests, and deliberately ignoring healthy lifestyle habits such as diet management or exercise. Depending on your child’s age and temperament, navigating this challenge can look different for different people. However, studies have demonstrated that responsive parenting is linked to better treatment adherence. This means offering support, warmth, and love, even if your child testing your limits. This is in contrast to a parenting style of psychological control, which revolves around manipulation, pressure, and withdrawing affection. Such parenting techniques are consistently associated with poorer adherence to treatment recommendations.4 Try to understand your child’s concerns – is the treatment painful? Are they worried about what others think of them? Do they simply not realise the gravity of not following the treatment? Understanding the root issue can help you to find solutions together.
Parental distress is not uncommon when a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.2 It’s important to look after your emotional health too, and not only so that you can be more present for your child when they need you. Your child’s diabetes healthcare team may be able to direct you to a support group for parents in similar situations. Remember that parenting is an evolving artform. As long as you’re doing the best you can for your child, there’s no better parent they could ask for.
- Patterson C, Karuranga S, Salpea P, et al. Worldwide estimates of incidence, prevalence and mortality of type 1 diabetes in children and adolescents: Results from the International Diabetes Federaion Diabetes Atlas, 9th edition. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2019. 157;107842.
- Iversen AS, Graue M, Haugstvedt A, Råheim M. Being mothers and fathers of a child with type 1 diabetes aged 1 to 7 years: a phenomenological study of parents' experiences. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2018;13(1):1487758.
- Addala A, Maahs DM, Scheinker D, Chertow S, Leverenz B, Prahalad P. Uninterrupted continuous glucose monitoring access is associated with a decrease in HbA1c in youth with type 1 diabetes and public insurance. Pediatr Diabetes. 2020; 21: 1301– 1309.
- Goethals E, Oris M, Soenens B, et al. Parenting and Treatment Adherence in Type 1 Diabetes Throughout Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. J Ped Psychol. 2017;42(9):922-932.