Diabetes Management Tips for Kids
Common Health Issues

Diabetes Management Tips for Kids

Some kids are tall, some are short, some stock, some skinny. Some kids have brown eyes and some kids have blue eyes. Some kids get sunburns and some kids get suntans. Some kids get cavities and some kids don’t. Some kids wear glasses and other kids wear braces. And some kids have diabetes. Maybe you are one of those kids.


The truth is you are just like any other kid on the planet. No one is exactly the same, not even identical twins. We all have differences and that’s what makes each one of us special. And one of the things that makes you special is having diabetes. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you as a person. It just means that there is something a little different about the way some of the cells in your body work.


The cells of your pancreas have been damaged and don’t work as they should. They don’t produce the insulin your body needs. Your body needs insulin to let glucose, or sugar, into your cells. Your body breaks down, or digests, most of the food you eat into glucose. The cells in your body need glucose to give them the energy to work right. You’re not that much different than the kid next door who can’t see right. He needs glasses to help his eyes do their job. You need insulin to help your cells do their job.


Diabetes is not easy. You already know that it takes extra effort to keep everything in balance. You have to pay attention to what you eat, figure out how much insulin you need, and measure your blood glucose levels. But the good news is that when you do these things, you are learning to live a healthy lifestyle. And that’s just what everyone else is trying to do, whether they have diabetes or not. Maybe you’re even a little luckier than most kids, because you are forced to eat good foods and take care of yourself. That may make you even healthier than kids who don’t always eat what they should.



Managing Your Daily Routine

Diabetes can change the way you go through your daily routine: eating, drinking, playing, going to school, along with testing your blood glucose and taking insulin. Doing all the right things can take a little getting used to. But once you figure it out, you can get through each day just like any other kid.


Whatever you do during the day and night, you want to keep your blood glucose from getting too high or too low. If it gets too high or too low, you will feel sick. Eating food makes the glucose level in your blood go up. Insulin and exercise makes it go down. If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make the insulin your body needs, so you have to give yourself insulin. Your body needs food and glucose to be able to do all the things it is supposed to do. So as you go through your day you have to eat enough food to give your body the glucose and nutrients it needs, but no so much that your blood glucose level goes too high. You also have to take enough insulin so your body can use the glucose, but not enough to make your blood glucose level go too low.


This might be the hardest part about having diabetes for you. You go to lunch and the kid next to you gets a big fat brownie for dessert and you’re stuck with an apple. You wish you could have a brownie or cookies for dessert. And often you might get tired of always having to eat healthy foods. It just doesn’t seem fair.

What You Should Do

If you have a hard time eating what you should, or don’t like that you never get to have a treat you like, talk to your parents. Try not to complain in a whiny voice. Instead ask nicely, “Mom (or Dad), do you think we could do something about my meal plan?” The time to ask is not when it’s an hour before dinner and you are begging to have a chocolate bar. Talk about it when you are both happy and calm. Ask your mom or dad if you could meet with your dietitian and figure out a meal plan that lets you have a treat you like every now and then.


Your dietitian is the person who figures out the best way to plan your meal. Sometimes people with diabetes are told to follow the same meal plan that everyone else follows. But not everyone likes the same things. It is hard to stick to a meal plan that doesn’t include any of your favorite things and makes you eat a lot of foods you don’t like. 


Your dietitian should ask you what kinds of foods you like, what kinds of foods you don’t like, whether you like to eat just a few big meals, or whether you like to eat a lot of small meals. Your dietitian might be able to work out a plan that lets you have a lot of snacks instead of eating a lot at each big meal. Your snacks should be healthy, but they should also be things that you like.

And your meal plan ought to let you have a special treat every now and then. That doesn’t mean you will be able to eat a lot of junk food all the time. But maybe it will be easier to stick to your plan if you know you will get a little treat sometimes. Your dietitian may also be able to give your parents some special recipes. Maybe you can’t eat a certain candy or cake because of all the sugar or fat in it. But maybe your parents can make you some snacks that taste good, and don’t hurt your blood glucose control. If you are able to eat meals and snacks that include the foods you like, it might not be so hard sticking with your meal plan.

Just remember that the foods you eat are not any different than what people without diabetes eat. You don’t have to eat special diabetic foods. You just need to eat healthy foods. And that’s just what everyone else on the planet should be doing. You are getting a head start at eating healthy because you know how important it is to eat the right foods.


This might be another thing you don’t like that much about having diabetes. You have to poke your finger several times a day to get a drop of blood to test it for glucose. It may not be much fun, but it’s the way you and your parents can tell if you’re doing well. It’s sort of like having your temperature taken when you are sick. If your glucose goes up too high or down too low, you will feel sick. As long as you and your parents have a way to keep track of your glucose, you will feel okay and can do all the things you like to do, just like any other kid

What You Should Do

The worst part about testing is the way it feels when you have to poke yourself. Most kids get used to it. But if it still hurts when you get poked, ask your parents to find you a lancet that doesn’t hurt that much. You are probably already using an automatic lancing device. If you are not using an automatic lancing device, make sure you get one. 

Tell your parents to look for one with shallow penetration. These work better for kids. Try different ones until you find one that doesn’t hurt. Also poke a different finger each time so your fingers don’t get too sore. Some kids poke and test themselves and some kids have their parents do it. Try both ways and see which you like best.


It may seem like you are testing all the time. You might not like that, especially if you are in the middle of doing something fun. But remember, the more you test, the better you are able to keep your blood glucose levels normal. Good times to test are before breakfast, lunch and dinner, before you go to bed, and 2 hours after each meal. Sometimes you might even have to test in the middle of the night. You should do extra tests when you are sick or have your parents do it for you. Also, test before doing any sport or physical activity.


Insulin works like a teeny key. It finds the “locks” on the cells in your body that need glucose and unlocks the door to let the glucose into the cell. Without the energy they need, cells like your muscle cells and brain cells don’t have the energy to help you move, grow and think. 


Your doctor has worked out a plan to give you enough insulin during the day to let you use the glucose in the foods you eat. Your plan gets you more insulin before your meals. If there is too much or too little glucose in your blood, you will feel sick. So your insulin plan has to make sure to take care of just the right amount of glucose. That’s why it is important to stick to your plan. Don’t ever skip doses, even if you don’t feel like taking a shot. Don’t skip planned meals and snacks, even if you think you’re not hungry. You have to keep the food and insulin balanced with each other.


What You Should Do

What you might not like about insulin is having to give yourself shots. It will take a little getting used to. You might feel more comfortable if your parents do it for you, especially if you are new to diabetes. But eventually, you will need to learn to do it yourself, because your parents can’t always be with you.


Where do you inject insulin? Your skin is a layer of cells that covers and protects your body. If you inject your syringe into your skin, insulin won’t get to where it needs to be. Just underneath the skin is a layer of cells called the subcutaneous (or sub-Q) layer that contains a lot of fat. This is where you want to inject insulin. When you inject insulin here, it goes into your body at a steady rate. This will help keep too much or too little glucose from staying in your blood.

There is sub-Q tissue all over the body. The places for injecting insulin are:

  • Your arm—the upper outside part
  • Your thighs—the front and sides
  • Your buttocks
  • Your back—just above your waist (this might be a hard place to reach, though, and you may need a little help)
  • Your stomach—except for the area around your belly button (be sure to inject here if your glucose level is high)

If you inject in the same place every time, after a while it might start to hurt, or you could get bumps forming there. To make sure this does not happen, change the place where you inject each time. This is called site rotation. You doctor can help you figure out a plan for rotating sites. You might want to do your morning shots in your arm and your evening shots in your leg, or the other way around. If you do this, try to always do your morning shots in one place and your evening shots in the other place. 


That’s because insulin can get into your body faster from some places than others and you want to make sure you do the same thing every time, so your glucose levels don’t go too far up or too far down. But if you are doing your morning injections in your arm, change the exact spot each time.


If you have a hard time giving yourself your own shots, talk to your parents. Ask them to let you try something like the Inject-Ease injector or other kind of injection aid. This is a special kind of syringe. The needle stays inside the unit so you don’t even see it. When you press the button, the needle goes in very quickly so it doesn’t hurt. It’s easy to use and many kids—even little kids—can use it themselves.


Some kids find it easier to use a pump. A pump is something you keep strapped to you all the time. It holds a supply of insulin and pumps it into your body at a steady rate. The insulin goes through a piece of tubing to an insertion site. This is sort of like a needle that you leave there for a few days. 

Every few days you move your insertion site somewhere else. With a pump you don’t have to worry about shots all the time. You just press a button before your meal to give yourself a little extra insulin. You can take your pump off when you are doing sports. If you think you might be interested in trying a pump, talk to your parents. It might make things a lot easier for you.


Special Events

Once you get used to eating right and giving yourself insulin, you might think having diabetes is not all that bad. You and your parents have probably worked out ways to make blood testing, eating, and insulin injections fairly easy. But then something comes up. You want to stay overnight at your friend’s house or you are invited to a birthday party or want to go on an overnight camping trip with your scout troop. You might be afraid you can do these things. But if you plan things in advance, you should be able to do anything any other kid can do


What You Should Do

Any time you want to do something out of the ordinary, make sure to come up with a plan. Exactly what goes into your plan depends on what you are expecting to do and how you handle things every day. When you make your plan, try to keep things as normal as possible.


If you are just going to a party for a few hours, talk to your parents about whether you need to test and when to do it. If there are going to be special treats served, talk about what you can eat and how you can fit it into your meal plan. If snacks will be served, count what you eat as one of your snacks. Test before you eat to make sure your glucose is not too high. You should be able to eat what others are eating, as long as you account for it and don’t overdo it. 


If you work out that you can have a cupcake, don’t have three. You may need to change some of your other meals or your insulin dose. If you drink soda, make sure to drink diet soda. Or better yet, drink water. If you are eating hamburgers or pizza, make sure to count it as one of your regular meals. Your parents will probably want to talk to whoever is in charge of the party to make sure the food and activities will fit in with your plan.


If you are going to stay overnight somewhere, you also need a plan. If you are staying at a friend’s house, make sure your friend’s parents know what you need to eat and when, when you need to test, and when you need to take your insulin. Sometimes, if you are having too much fun it is easy to forget and it helps to have someone who can remind you. Make sure your friend’s parents know how to tell if your blood glucose is too high or too low. As long as you stick to your plan and count any snacks you have as you do for anything else you eat, you should be able to have a fun time.


If you are staying overnight in the woods or having some sort of camping adventure, you want to plan for it the same way. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks. Pack all the supplies that you normally need for testing blood and taking insulin in a special bag and keep it close to you. A fanny pack works well, especially if it is insulated. If you are going with a big group, you might want to pack extra supplies and give it to your leader ow whoever is in charge. 


Make sure that whoever is in charge knows how to test your blood and knows when you should test, eat and inject your insulin. Plan your meals in advance just like you would plan your meals at home. If you need any foods that won’t be served to the whole group, make sure to bring along your own supply. Wear a watch so you know when you should test, eat and take insulin. Also, if you are doing anything physical, like hiking a mountain or paddling a canoe, you may need extra snacks. Make sure to test your blood before and during any physical activity and eat extra snacks if your blood glucose falls too low. Always carry a pocket carbohydrate snack. Ask your mom or dad to talk to your doctor about whether you should also bring a glucagon kit.


Sports and Activities

If you like sports, dance or anything physical, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to do it. In fact, exercise is good for people with diabetes. It helps keep your blood glucose from going too high. Exercise uses up glucose for energy and makes your blood glucose go down. You just want to be careful you don’t let it go down too low.


What You Should Do

You can do just about any sport you want to if you just plan ahead. Depending on your activity, your parents may want to ask your doctor whether you need to adjust your insulin dose. They will also want to make sure your coach or whoever is in charge knows about our diabetes.


Before you start any game or activity, test your blood glucose. If it is too low, have a quick snack and drink lots of water. Pay attention to how you are feeling. If you start to feel shaky or dizzy, tell whoever is in charge and sit down for a few minutes. Test your blood glucose if you feel funny at any time. Also test after you have been doing the game or activity for 30 minutes, especially if it is a nonstop activity, like football. 


Even if you are just running around on the playground, you may have to stop, test and have a snack. If you are using an insulin pump, you will probably be able to take it off while you are playing. All athletes should stop and have a break every now and then to drink some water and have a snack. You are no different. Play smart and you should be able to have fun just like everyone else.


Handling Emergencies

Every now and then, even if you take special care to test often and watch what you eat, sometimes your blood glucose may go too high or too low. Usually when that happens you won’t feel right. If you pretend you are feeling okay when you aren’t, you could start to feel much worse. This could be dangerous. The best way to keep things from getting worse is to take action right away.


What You Should Do

If you don’t have enough glucose in your blood, you can get something called hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose. This can happen when you have too much insulin, too little food or carbohydrate, too much exercise or if you eat your meal too late. You may start to feel shaky or nervous. You might start sweating or feel chills and a little clammy. You may feel very hungry and light-headed. You may also feel sad, angry or confused. You can also get a stomachache or your tongue or lips may feel funny. When you are sleeping, you might have nightmares.

If you feel any of those things, make sure to tell an adult at once. You should test your blood right away. If your blood glucose is below 60, eat a snack without delay. If you don’t have time to test, eat a snack anyhow. You could have a few glucose tablets, a half a can of regular soda or a small glass of orange juice. Or have 5 to 10 jelly beans, Lifesavers, or gumdrops. This should bring your blood glucose back up. After you eat, test 10 to 15 minutes later. If your reading is still low, have another snack. If you ae playing or running around, stop and test.


If you take these steps and rest a while, you should feel better in no time. If you don’t feel better, make sure to tell someone. If your glucose drops too low, someone else will have to take over. Make sure your friends or people you are with know what to do if you have low blood glucose.


You can also start to feel bad if you have too much glucose in your blood. When this happens you have hyperglycemia or high blood glucose. This can happen if you eat too much, don’t take enough insulin or skip an insulin dose. When your blood glucose is too high, you may feel extremely thirsty. 


Your mouth may feel very dry. Your skin can feel warm and dry even though you aren’t sweating. You can even feel sleepy or confused. You might just feel funny or not quite right. Any time you don’t feel like you usually do, tell an adult and test your blood glucose. If it is over 250, tell an adult immediately. You may also have to do something called a ketone test. If your blood glucose is too high, you may have to take some extra insulin. But don’t take any extra insulin without talking to an adult first.


Sources and References

The Diabetes Problem Solver—Quick Answers to Your Questions About Treatment and Self-Care by Nancy Touchette

Reducing injection pain in children and adolescents with diabetes: a review of indwelling catheters by Ragnar Hanas 

Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Obstacles in Coping by S Takmak, A Kartal et al

Diabetes in Childhood and Adolescence by R Ziegler and A Neu



Rich Health Editorial Team

Health Research

Rich Health Editorial Team is made up of medical practitioners and experienced writers who provide information for dealing with health issues in a simple and easy-to-understand manner