It’s becoming more and more common for children to receive type 2 diabetes diagnoses. It used to be a disease that mainly affected people over the age of 45. No wonder shock is often what parents first feel when their child receives such a diagnosis.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. It is the most common form of diabetes. It means your body is either no longer making enough insulin — or can’t properly use the insulin it does make.
Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells get the energy they need from the foods you eat. When you don’t make enough of it, or can’t use the insulin you have, glucose builds up in the blood. This can lead to poor health.
It’s never easy to learn that you child has a chronic condition. Childhood type 2 diabetes requires careful lifelong management. But the good news is that making a few key lifestyle changes can help manage it.
Learn more about how to successfully support a child with Type 2 diabetes.
Explaining Type 2 Diabetes to a Child
Explaining type 2 diabetes to a child may be the hardest part. Depending on their age, some parents might choose to wait. But children are perceptive — and you can help them make better choices when they have a basic understanding of the problem.
You can keep it simple. You can tell your child that their bodies have trouble converting the food they eat into energy. That’s why they will need to make some changes to the types and amounts of food they eat and may need to take some medication.
As they get older, you can take a deeper dive into insulin and metabolic function. You can also encourage your child to ask their doctor any questions they may have. When children know the basics, they’re more likely to comply with the needed lifestyle changes.
What’s most important is that you let your child know that type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to hold them back.
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How Can I Support My Child with Type 2 Diabetes?
First, let them know Type 2 diabetes does require lifelong management. But that doesn’t mean it has to get in the way of them leading fun, active lives.
That said, to stay healthy and feeling good, you will have to make some changes. Most of those changes are around diet and exercise. You’ll find that you can make changes that will benefit the whole family.
Some ways you can support your child with Type 2 diabetes include:
- Replacing sugary drinks, including fruit juices, with water.
- Adding more colorful fruits and vegetables to each meal.
- Providing appropriate portions for foods.
- Eating dinner at the table, instead of in front of the television, smart phone, or computer.
- Helping your child to read nutrition labels, so they can understand what’s in the foods they eat.
- Avoiding the use of sugary foods to reward your kids for good behavior or achievements.
- Finding ways to increase physical activity as a family.
- Making physical activity fun.
- Teaching them to regularly monitor their blood glucose levels.
- Making sure they follow any medication regimen as prescribed.
How to Reverse the Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition. But it’s also a medical condition where you have a lot of control over how you feel. By encouraging healthier eating and regular exercise, your child can reverse the symptoms of their disease.
Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurry vision, frequent infections, and weight changes. When their blood sugar isn’t stable, kids can feel sluggish and moody. But they have it within their power to change that.
Let your child know that by making healthier choices about food, they can feel better. The same is true of physical activity. You can empower them to make the changes that will reverse their symptoms — allowing them to live healthy, active lives.
Helping Your Child with Type 2 Diabetes Lead a Normal Life
Too often, people believe a chronic disease diagnosis can be limiting. But it doesn’t have to be.
Even with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, your child can still participate in a wide variety of normal childhood activities. It just takes a little bit of extra planning — and some education.
Make sure to tell your child’s teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents about type 2 diabetes. Answer any questions they may have. Let them know your child can still be an active participant in activities.
At the same time, talk to your child. Have them think about healthy and smarter food choices before a birthday party or sleepover. Make sure they have healthy snacks on hand for school or sports.
Let them know that food is not the enemy. They can still have the occasional treat. But it’s important to keep everything in moderation.
Your Role as a Parent
It’s much the same as being the parent of any child. You may have to pay more attention to finger sticks and medications. But your job is to help your child learn how to manage their blood sugar on their own.
You can do that by being a good role model. Even if you don’t have type 2 diabetes, help them with food choices at every meal. Cut back on sugary drinks and snacks.
You can also model the importance of regular physical activity. Some fun ideas for family exercise include:
- Going on walks or bike rides as a family.
- Hosting a family dance party in the kitchen after dinner.
- Doing jumping jacks or marching in place during commercial breaks while watching television.
- Going to the gym as a family.
- Trying new outdoor activities, like roller skating or pogo sticking, together.
When you can find ways to make it fun, your kids will look forward to getting 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
Helping your child understand and accept their type 2 diabetes diagnosis isn’t always easy. Neither is making the required lifestyle changes. But when you provide strong support, it’s much easier.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.