The responsibilities that come when your child receives a type 1 diabetes diagnosis can be challenging. It means late-night blood sugar checks, monitoring their carb intake, and making sure that they always have their medicine and insulin on hand for when they need it.

While both type 1 and type 2 diabetes require a certain amount of care, type 1 diabetes differs in that your child’s body is not producing insulin at all. This means that their body completely relies on manual blood sugar regulation to survive.

5 Ways Parents Can Promote Autonomy for Their Diabetic Child

Usually, this responsibility falls on the parent— especially when the child is first diagnosed. However, as your child grows older and develops into an adult, they will need to, and likely want to, start having more independence over their diabetes management.

So the question becomes, “when can I start to trust my child to do this themselves?” Should I wait until they’re a teenager? Is waiting until they move out too late? While the answer isn’t entirely clear-cut, below are a few things you can do to ease your child into managing their diabetes independently gradually.

Why is autonomy important?

Ever since your child was a toddler, you’ve likely noticed that they were always trying to do things independently. They tried to feed themselves when they could barely hold the spoon. They tried to stand up on their own when they couldn’t balance on their feet. You probably even encouraged your toddler to explore the world around them and express themselves.

Children crave this autonomy. And while it may be instinctive to take over and do everything for them, you have to give them the room to learn from their mistakes. Giving your child this independence is crucial for their cognitive development. It boosts cognitive development, raises self-esteem and confidence, and can even foster feelings of belonging and contribute to their social groups.

This is why you must foster your child’s independence when managing their type 1 diabetes. It can help them feel more comfortable living with this disease and help them accept this extra responsibility as their way of life.

Start as early as possible

There’s no need to wait until your child is about to leave the nest before you relinquish full control of their diabetes to them. You also don’t have to let them have full reign when they’re barely capable of tying their shoes, either.

Instead, you want to increase their level of responsibility as they become able to handle it. You can start by teaching your child everything you can about their disease. Show them how you’re inputting insulin levels into their pump, and explain how they can add up all of the carbs in their meals. Keep them involved in every aspect of the process so that they are ready to take it over when the time comes.

Give them tasks during blood sugar checks

The best way to let your child develop autonomy over their T1D is to let them have responsibility for tasks. If your child is in their early adolescent years, you can start by allowing them to choose the finger that gets pricked during blood sugar checks or allowing them to turn the glucose monitor on.

As they grow older, you can give them more responsibilities, like inputting the numbers into their insulin pump—if they have one— or even allowing them to do the calculations independently. Ensure that you’re praising them when they do a good job so that they’re excited to do more.

By gradually layering on these tasks, your child will fully understand all of the components that go into taking care of themselves and maybe even have full control over managing their diabetes by their teenage years. 

Ask for assistance from other adults

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that phrase definitely applies to your diabetic child. There are going to be days where your child wants to spend the night at their friend’s house or when their soccer team has an away game that you can’t attend. In these instances, the adults who are supervising your child must understand their needs.

If you’re allowing your fifth grader to administer their own insulin injections at mealtimes, then you may need to ask their teacher to check and make sure their calculations are correct. Or you may need to ask your child’s sports coach to keep snacks nearby in case your child forgot to bring one.

Including other adults in your child’s diabetes care not only keeps them safe when you’re not around but can also help your child feel more normal about having to care for themselves in this way.

Have them ask questions during their doctor’s visits

Another great way to get your child involved in their diabetes care is to allow them to speak during their doctor visits. Allow them to answer when the doctor asks how they’ve been doing. Or, if you have concerns about the way treatment is going, let your child bring up the subject.

A doctor-patient relationship is a very intimate one. When you let your child speak for themselves during their visits, you allow them to develop a deeper connection and build trust with someone they will be spending a lot of time with. It will also help your child feel like they have more authority over their health. 

Listen to your child

Type 1 diabetes can often make children feel wary about all of the work that comes along with it. They may be dealing with feelings of isolation, anxiety, frustration, and even embarrassment about having to manage this disease.

Giving them the space to manage their diabetes on their own may help to alleviate some of these feelings. It reduces the amount of attention they get from their siblings, peers, and other adults and lets them reclaim ownership over their bodies.

If your child asks you to give them more independence over their health, then try to honor that. If you feel like they’re not yet ready to do some of the things on their own, try to make compromises. They may already feel like they aren’t in control of their body because of their T1D, so try to listen when they tell you that they’re ready to take some of that control back.

Something to keep in mind

There is no specific age where your child will magically become ready to take over managing their diabetes completely. Instead, it will happen gradually, potentially with a little push and pull as your child develops more independence over their body and life.

The best thing you can do is help them get ready for this new role. While type 1 diabetes may set them apart from their peers, your child is still going to develop into a functioning adult like everyone else— and they need to be given the ability to do that.

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