Facing a Diabetes Diagnosis

Finding out your child has diabetes is never easy. It does get easier as you learn more about the condition and how it can best be managed. Because diabetes is a chronic, usually lifelong condition, learning how to live with it as effectively and easily as possible can give your child his best chance for a healthy life.

Tools and information

One tool you can use right away to help your child learn and develop confidence in dealing with diabetes is our sticker chart. Use it to reward your child and help him take increasing responsibility for self-care as he reaches an appropriate age.

Download our patient family handbook for diabetes

Reference common signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia

Download our insulin dosing worksheet (correction formula)

Download our insulin dosing worksheet (sliding scale)

Download and print additional insulin dosing daily plan charts

Check out our diabetes management tips

Read our tips for sick day management

Download our diabetes sticker chart

The following is information you will find useful when caring for a child with diabetes:

Checking blood sugars

Finger sticks to check blood sugar are an important part of daily care for diabetes. For many children, having fingers pricked repeated is a source of discomfort and stress—and it can be stressful for family and caretakers as well. Improvements in glucose meters now allow measurement with a tiny amount of blood. That means children can be pricked somewhere other than their sensitive fingertips, such as the palm of the hand or the forearm.

Talk to your child’s healthcare team before you begin. Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) may be an option, but blood glucose testing will still be needed to make sure the CGM measurement is accurate.

Eating sweets

Your child can still have sweet snacks, but you must make adjustments to allow for it. Like all carbohydrates, sugar raises blood sugar (glucose). When sugar, such as juice or candy, is eaten without any other food, blood glucose rises very quickly. If sugar is eaten with a meal that also contains fat and protein, blood glucose rises more slowly.

An occasional sweet treat is fine if insulin doses are adjusted to allow for the sugar content and the treat is eaten with a meal. Most kids should not substitute a high sugar treat for a complex carbohydrate like bread, pasta or vegetables.

Insulin injections

Most children with diabetes will need insulin injections throughout their lives. If your child has Type 1 diabetes, he will need insulin by injection or a continuous infusion pump until a better treatment is developed. Insulin pumps can make life easier for many children. Some children with Type 2 diabetes may not need insulin if their condition can be managed through diet and other methods, but this is not always possible.

Sometimes in the early stages of diabetes, very small doses of insulin may be needed. You may begin to think your child no longer needs it, but never stop giving insulin without talking to your child’s doctor and healthcare team. Not giving insulin can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) which means that there is high level of ketones (acid) in the blood. If not treated, it can be life threatening.

Sick day management

You will need to take special care of your child when they are sick. Just the stress of being sick can raise your child’s blood sugar level. Colds, fever, vomiting and diarrhea may cause blood sugar to rise. Low blood sugar may occur if your child has vomiting, diarrhea and/or cannot eat.

Family ambassador program

The Diabetes Family Ambassador Program at Children's is a program of support to help you and your family navigate the challenges of living with diabetes. The goal of the program is to connect families living with a new diabetes diagnosis with other families who know firsthand what they're going through.  

To learn more or get involved, contact your Diabetes Education Team at 404-785-4841.

Your child’s future

Your child will always have diabetes, but he can still life a full and active life. Although you and your family may wish that the diabetes has gone away, once a child has diabetes, it is always there.

If your child has Type 1 diabetes, it may seem to go away during a brief "honeymoon" period when blood sugar may be within normal range. This happens because your child’s insulin-making cells (beta cells) start working more than they did before the child started taking insulin. You may even think that the doctors have made a mistake and that your child does not really have diabetes. This honeymoon period does end, however, and your child's body will not make any more insulin.

If your child has Type 2 diabetes, the diabetes may seem to disappear if blood sugar is controlled through diet, exercise or medication. But the diabetes actually is being controlled—it is not truly gone. To keep the diabetes under control, the child must still monitor his blood sugar levels, watch his diet, exercise and take his medicine.

Hope for a cure

The hope for a cure is alive and well at Children’s and throughout the world. Thousands of brilliant people have dedicated their careers, and millions more commit their time and money to make the research possible.

Three promising approaches for Type 1 diabetes include an artificial pancreas, a pancreas transplant from a donor, and prevention of diabetes through identifying risk, blood testing and innovative treatment. Children’s is involved in diabetes research and committed to supporting efforts to find a cure.

Help fund the cure for diabetes

Age-Related Issues and Tips

As your child grows and develops, his views and feelings about having diabetes will change. In each stage, your involvement and attitude is critical. Until your child reaches adolescence, you will need to provide much of his care and supervise as he learns. While all children cope differently with diabetes, most children face some common issues.

Infant to 3 years old

  • Appetites can vary from day to day.
  • Toddlers want independence—food battles are common.
  • Babies eat and sleep when they want. Finding the right treatment schedule can be a challenge. Low blood sugar reactions in babies and toddlers can be hard to detect.
  • Babies may become anxious and flinch, anticipating a heel/finger stick whenever they are picked up.
  • Toddlers may fear shots and finger pricks.

Tips for this age:

  • Talk to your child’s healthcare team about insulin dosing and meal planning to allow for daily changes in appetite. This can help keep blood sugar stable and can reduce stress and worry when your child is not hungry or refuses to eat.
  • Do not force-feed. Talk to your diabetes team if food battles are frequent.
  • Give your toddler choices. Let him choose between two snacks, or, if possible, where an insulin shot will be given.
  • Let your toddler play doctor and “check” his doll or teddy bear’s blood sugar with an unloaded lancet device before checking his blood sugar.
  • Set up a “diabetes station” in your home, and do all shots and blood tests there when possible. That way, your child can feel at ease and have no fear of shots in the rest of the house. Make his bed a safe haven—no shots in bed.
  • Use a meter that requires the least amount of blood. Try using plastic pipettes to transfer blood from your child’s heel or finger if you are having trouble getting the blood sample on the strip.
  • Try to distract your child to ease his fears of shots and blood tests. Patting or squeezing another part of his body or handing him a favorite toy may work.
  • Have insulin ready before bringing your child to the room where the shot is given.
  • Try to get your toddler on a meal and snack schedule with the rest of the family, allowing enough time for him to be hungry and ready to eat.

Children 3 to 5 years old

  • Your child is spending some time away from your family. He may become frustrated or confused when other children do not have to be treated for diabetes.
  • Your child may believe diabetes is a punishment.

Tips for this age:

  • Preschoolers are eager to please. Now is the time to shape good eating and diabetes management habits.
  • Educate caregivers about managing insulin, meals and blood test. Discuss the day’s blood sugar management when picking your child up.
  • Make sure your child gets to take part in parties, trips to restaurants and visits with friends so he is not left out from everyday fun activities that his friends enjoy.
  • Follow a schedule for meals and snacks to help control appetite and blood glucose levels.
  • Be one step ahead and plan what, when and where your child’s next meals and snacks will be. The quickest choice might not be the best for your child.

Children 6 to 8 years old

  • Your child is making friends and relationships outside the family.
  • At this age, you will need to handle self-care to be sure checks and injections are done on time and correctly.
  • Your child is beginning to understand what diabetes is and can explain it in simple terms.
  • Your child may recognize when his blood sugar is low and can ask for help.
  • Your child may worry about being "different" and may hide the diabetes or act like he does not have it.
  • He may feel disappointed or like he has failed if his blood sugar is out of range.

Tips for this age:

  • Join a diabetes support group so your child can meet others his age with diabetes.
  • Teach basic nutrition to your child and read books about diabetes together.
  • Look into camp or other social activities with other children who have diabetes.
  • Always look for opportunities to catch him doing something right and praise him for it.
  • Avoid labeling blood glucose results as "good" or "bad.” Use “high” and “low” instead. Stress that if it is high or low, you just need to take steps to fix it.
  • Try to show support and a positive outlook on diabetes management. Your child takes his cues from you.

Children 9 to 11 years old

  • Your child is learning quickly, and may know the day-to-day routine, such as what time he eats and takes insulin.
  • He is building confidence about daily self-care but is not ready do the tasks correctly and on time without supervision.
  • Peer pressure is high at this stage. Your child may worry about fitting in and may not want to do checks, injections or other care with friends watching.
  • Your child may lie to you about blood sugar levels and what he eats at school.
  • Your child may not fully realize the risk of poor control and may not be concerned about diabetes complications.

Tips for this age:

  • Allow your child to do the diabetes tasks he feels comfortable with while you supervise and manage his diabetes.
  • Talk to your child regularly about his diabetes. Discuss the best ways to get the results you both want.
  • Supervise your child while injecting insulin, making food choices and doing blood sugar checks.
  • Praise him when you catch him doing something right.
  • Find ways to fit in overnight parties, fast food trips and other activities his friends enjoy.

Children 12 to 14 years old

  • Your child may worry about puberty, how his body is changing and how he looks.
  • Hormonal changes can affect blood sugar levels.
  • Peer pressure may be hard to resist, and your child is more likely to eat off the diet plan.
  • Your child may become secretive and not want to talk about his diabetes with you.
  • Your child can draw up insulin and may have the math skills to calculate insulin. At this age, he is too immature and impulsive to do it on time. You will need to supervise.
  • Arguments about meals and snacks may be more frequent, and your child may sneak food.

Tips for this age:

  • Use an alarm or other reminder so your child can check blood sugars without direct supervision. Review the monitor daily to make the check was done on time and your child is correctly reporting the results.
  • Help your child solve some diabetes-related problems with suggestions and questions of your own. Keep teaching your child about diabetes management—he’s still learning.
  • Set rules and grant privileges when your child follows them correctly.

Children 15 to 16 years old

  • Teens want to spend more time away from home, and some are able to manage diabetes well for short periods, such as a trip to the mall.
  • Teens may be able to do nearly all of the diabetes management tasks but still need parents to check the blood sugar monitor daily and oversee meals. You will still need to do some tasks for him, because at this age, he is busy and easily overwhelmed.
  • He may be moody and rebellious, and may not want to admit he needs help.
  • Make sure to check blood sugar before your child drives, every time. Make sure your teen can manage his diabetes responsibly before he gets his driver's license

Tips for this age:

  • Stay involved in all decisions about insulin adjustments, and talk to your child’s healthcare team.
  • If your child’s diabetes is not well-controlled and he resists your help, consider family counseling.
  • Alcohol and drug use can be especially dangerous for teens with diabetes. Make sure your child knows the risks and that his real friends will understand.

Children 17 and older

  • Your teen is busy with social activities, school and maybe a job. He may forget about diabetes tasks, so you need to stay involved.
  • Your child may be ready to visit the doctor alone to prepare for more independence as he moves on to college or work.

Tips for this age:

  • You may still need to plan most meals and check the blood sugar monitor at least weekly to verify that blood sugars are checked on time. Keep teaching your child how to manage low and high blood sugar, and make sure he takes proper steps to lower or raise it.
  • Enforce the rules about diabetes care, and give more freedom as your child shows responsible behavior.
  • Teach your older teen about health insurance issues and how to get prescriptions filled.
  • Take your teen grocery-shopping and let him plan some meals.
  • Help him be assertive and confident so that he can face peer pressure more easily. Consider counseling if your child needs help becoming safely independent.