When I started my journey as a nurse case manager at UPMC Health Plan, I was excited to take on our pediatric diabetes population. My experience as a pediatric intensive care unit nurse allowed me to care for kids with diabetes at their sickest point, often when they were diagnosed with the condition and battling diabetic ketoacidosis.
However, switching gears to the well-care of children with diabetes and their parents required a lot of learning on my part. I started attending conferences, reaching out to other diabetes professionals, and reading literature on pediatric diabetes. I learned about pumps, glucose monitors, and other equipment and supplies that we cover here at UPMC Health Plan. Through all of my research, I noticed a common theme: Parents need more support!
And so it began my quest to find resources, support, and even the right words to say. I completed health coach training and I assembled a team: two pediatric nurses (Abby and Ashley), a pediatric social worker (Wendy), the father of a teen with diabetes (Brian), and a nurse practitioner (Tammi) who is a certified diabetes educator. Together, we come up with the monthly Sweet Life blogs. This is our small way of offering some support and resources to parents and other family members of those diagnosed with diabetes.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
What does the Sweet Life team want to tell you tired, stressed out parents when your child is diagnosed with diabetes? We want to say that you are allowed to grieve! We encourage you to use every resource and ounce of support that you can find. You need to take care of you. Having a refreshed parent instead of one who is exhausted and barely hanging on can make a huge difference to your child.
Most of all, we want you to know that things will get better. As hard as it is, keep a positive attitude around your child and live life to the fullest.
Help your child feel normal
The most successful families do not make diabetes the center of their lives. Their children continue to play sports, spend time with friends, go camping, and take vacations. It takes planning, but trying to live life as normally as possible is worth it.
One of the biggest issues that children with diabetes have is feeling different. So do everything in your power to keep that from happening. For example, the same snacking rules should apply to all of the children in your family. They should all have one serving size of a snack, and none should get to graze on snacks. Keep unhealthy snacks out of your home unless it’s a special occasion. It is not fair to have “special” snacks for the child with diabetes and different snacks for the other kids. Everyone will benefit from eating the right portions of healthy snacks.
Praise positive behavior
Set expectations for the child with diabetes just as you do for your other children. Checking blood sugars and administering insulin are the new norm.
Does your teen want to “quit diabetes?” Does your child sneak snacks and refuse to test their blood sugar? This is normal teenage behavior, but you can’t allow it. A teen should never be solely responsible for managing their diabetes. You need to check their glucometer or continuous glucose monitor EVERY DAY. This will hold your teen accountable.
Try to avoid yelling and fighting. It’s not effective and often causes teens to revert to unwanted behaviors. Instead, set the expectation that your teen will test and dose before eating. Then, when your child does it right, praise them and express your pride. Teach them to be organized, come up with a routine, prompt them gently—and praise, praise, praise!
Our team’s takeaway is that you can focus on your child without singling them out. Diabetes is a condition they have, but it does not define who they are. If possible, send your child to a summer camp where they can meet other children with diabetes. You can get information about camps from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Participate as a family in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and the ADA. This will allow you to raise awareness for diabetes, fundraise, and meet other families on similar journeys.
Please call a UPMC Health Plan case manager if you need support or more information. We are here for you and want you to succeed!
In wellness and support,