Updated: Aug 14, 2022
Me, circa. 2004 completing a blood sugar test
In my experience, the transition from parent to self management in adolescents with type 1 diabetes is an extremely transformative time. I’ve seen it in my own experience and those around me, becoming self sufficient with their management is empowering and exciting to say the least. Not only will it allow them to become more independent, but it takes a special kind of strength (that only type 1’s will understand) to overcome the intimidating (and sometimes terrifying) obstacles that come along with this condition.
Flashback to when I was an early teenager working to become more independent, diabetes was not on my list of things I was excited to deal with. Sure I could do the simple things like counting carbs, but I was stuck in that phase of comfort where my parents had most of the responsibility and I was helping. For me, one of the worst things was inserting my pump sites. It was always a big fight when my parents told me I should give it a try and do it myself. There were tears involved, there was yelling involved but once I did it, from that day on it was never an issue. I specifically remember myself looking up at my parents and saying “Oh that wasn’t bad at all.” Let me tell you, that feeling of conquering something that’s haunted you for so long is amazing, and I walked away a stronger person than I was before.
Through years of experiences like these and my time spent in diabetes education with kids, here’s a few tips i’ve gathered for making that transition as smooth as possible:
To the parents:
Get your kids involved earlier than later. Even if thats with little things like filling up the insulin in their pump before having you (the parent) insert it. Make the transition as gradual as possible. It’s no fun for anyone if you do everything for your child, then one day tell them “welp, you’re old enough now… so it’s your turn!” Have them talk with the CGM tech support, have them put together their pump reservoir, have them dial up insulin in their pens. I wouldn’t really consider any of this “fun” but it makes everything a bit more fun when your child becomes involved in every step. This way when it comes time to do the hard stuff (giving the shot or insulin pump for example) it’s that much easier for them.
Be patient: This process won’t happen overnight. It will take lots of self reflection and time for your child to become independent with their condition. It truly wasn’t until my college career began that I understood fully what it took to be a type 1 in our world today. Once I started living on my own and was essentially “forced” to be responsible for a majority of my diabetes care was when it all truly “clicked” for me. Ever since, I’ve grown to always put my diabetes first, and even though it doesn’t seem like it now, your child will eventually do the same.
Remind them that they aren’t alone: Even once your child feels they’ve reached the age where they are “fully independent” with their condition, we know that’s likely not the case. There’s not one person I know with type 1 that does not elicit help from others in some way to help control their diabetes. Whether that’s calling their endo, having a friend remind them to bolus or sharing their CGM data to their parents phones. With type 1, we should NEVER strive to be working solo. You must make it clear to your kids that its always okay to ask for help, and they should feel no shame in that.
Allow your child to make mistakes: As human beings, we learn from failure and making mistakes. Living with type 1 comes along with A LOT of mistakes. I can guarantee you it will be HARD to be “hands-off” when it comes to your child’s diabetes management. Especially after years of being the opposite. Allowing your child to make mistakes in their treatment, will help them grow to be mature and independant that much quicker. However, i’m not saying not to double check their insulin doses and remind them to bolus every once and awhile, after all diabetes can be life threatening… That brings me to my next point….
Make sure your child understands the seriousness of their condition: As much me and my diabuddies joke about it, diabetes is a LIFE THREATENING condition. With every treatment decision, their life is literally in their hands. I hate to get all serious, but it’s the truth. The earlier your child understands this, the earlier they’ll realize how important is it for them to put their health first.
What I wish I would’ve told myself as a kid:
JUST DO IT. It may sound too easy, but the anxiety of doing something new (like giving yourself a shot or inserting a CGM) is much much worse than the actual act of doing it. I promise… I lived it. Inserting your insulin pump on your own for the first time takes literally a split second, yet the worrying and crying can endure for days beforehand. It may seem hard now, but once it’s done you’ll be surprised at how big of a deal you had made something that seemed so small.
Trust me on this one… It WILL take time. It WILL take tears. It WILL be hard. Yet remember what comes out of hardship… massive growth. Children with type 1 are hands down the strongest group of individuals i’ve met, and they continue to impress me year after year.
Hopefully these help you smooth out some of those bumps in the road towards helping your child grow independant with their diabetes care!