Your most important back-to-school supply: Communication
There is nothing quite like the smell of pencils and the sight of new school shoes to bring memories of your school days flooding back. New teachers, a new routine and new friends can be exciting and scary all at once. If your child has diabetes, going back to school can come with an extra dose of complexity. A few tricks and a lot of open communication can make it easier.
The early years
Sending a child with diabetes to primary or grade school can be an exercise in faith. If your child depends on insulin injections, mealtimes, class parties, outings and excursions, and just the everyday schedule can fill any parent with uncertainty. After all, you're the one who knows your child's care better than anyone. Even if your school has a full-time nurse, you're likely to find yourself acting as a diabetes educator for teachers, administrators, bus drivers, coaches and office staff. Here are a few ways to ensure success as you prep for the coming school year.
Start over the summer—Your child's teacher and school staff may be working over the summer or return weeks before the students are set to arrive. This can be an ideal time to arrange meetings and begin training teachers and staff in general diabetes care as well as your child's individual care plan. This plan should document how often and where your child should check blood sugar, how to administer insulin, what to do in the case of high or low blood sugar, how often they should eat, how to manage physical activity, and more. It will also explain what your child can do on their own, and what they need help with, depending upon their age.
Encourage openness—Kids don't like to feel different or stand out. But studies have shown that people with diabetes who feel shame are less likely to properly care for themselves.1 As your child progresses through their school years, feelings of shame can lead to skipping blood sugar checks or missed insulin doses. Getting your child to be up-front with classmates about diabetes can show them that, even with diabetes, your child is just like everyone else.
Have a plan B—No matter how buttoned-up your plan, leave room for the unexpected. Class parties, field trips and going to a friend's house after school can all pose a carb calculation and dosing challenge. Participating in physical education or extracurricular activities or just playing four corners with friends can lead to low blood sugar immediately or later in the day.2 It's impossible to prepare for every scenario, but thinking through the most likely possibilities can help you be ready for nearly anything.
Work around absences—In a perfect world, your child would never miss school due to diabetes or other illnesses. However, in the case of an extended time off or frequent absences, connect with the school to see how you can help your child avoid falling behind.
As your child gets older
Many of the same tips for managing diabetes in primary school also apply to secondary school. However, as your child matures, they may encounter new challenges as they manage their care.
Encourage independence—As they near middle or secondary school, your child may be capable of managing their blood sugar checks, meals and insulin without direct involvement by an adult. Encouraging your child to take on age-appropriate responsibilities as they mature will prepare them for the day when they are fully handling their own care. Help them learn healthy habits, including how to recognize the signs of low blood sugar and problem-solve around out-of-range results, and you'll prepare them for a lifetime of good health.
Urge sports and physical exercise—As they grow older, children can become less active. Yet multiple studies have found that exercise improves the way their bodies use insulin while helping manage weight.3 Encouraging your child to participate in sports and extracurricular activities in and out of school will help reduce stress and anxiety and improve their focus and health. Just be sure to check blood sugar, let adults and other participants know what to look out for, and keep a snack on hand.4
When you're prepared, back-to-school time can be less stressful for parents and children with diabetes. Planning and communication can help your child be safe all year long.
1Archer A. Shame and diabetes self-management. Practical Diabetes. 2014;31(3): 102-106. Available at: https://www.practicaldiabetes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2016/03/Sh.... Accessed June 21, 2019.
2Robertson K, Adolfsson P, Scheiner G, Hanas Ragnar, Riddell M. Exercise in children and adolescents with diabetes. Pediatric Diabetes. 2009;10(s12): 154-168. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1399-5448.2009.00567.x. Accessed June 21, 2019.
3Diabetes Canada. Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines: Physical activity and diabetes. Available at: https://guidelines.diabetes.ca/cpg/chapter10. Accessed June 21, 2019.
4Diabetes Canada. Kids and physical activity. Available at: https://www.diabetes.ca/managing-my-diabetes/kids,-teens---diabetes/kids.... Accessed June 21, 2019.