Growing up and diabetes management

Growing up and diabetes management

Helping children and young people with diabetes to move towards self management has 3 key parts: having knowledge, having skills, having support.

Key points to remember

  • as a child or young person with diabetes grows and develops, what they know about diabetes and how they manage it, will also change
  • this growth and change is a gradual process
  • helping children and young people with diabetes to move towards self management has 3 key parts: having knowledge, having skills, having support

Developing an understanding of diabetes

As a child or young person with diabetes grows and develops, what they know about diabetes and how they manage it, will also change. This growth and change is a gradual process. One part of this change is diabetes knowledge:

  • how the child/young person understands what diabetes is
  • how it affects them and those close to them
  • how to manage it

A 5 year old may know that they have diabetes, that certain foods and drink are good for them (and others not!) and that they need to have insulin to stay well.

A 12 year old will know the same things but at a different level – they may know more about how their body works and how diabetes can affect them, why certain foods and drink are better than others and how to use this in the management of their diabetes.

A 14 year old may not give any value to knowledge that has been 'handed down' from adults or parents regarding diabetes management, resulting in not following diabetes management regimes as well as other risk taking behaviours.  

Diabetes management skills

Another part of this growth and change is the development of diabetes skills. Just as we expect a typical 12 year old will have better coordination and physical abilities than a 5 year old, there are different expectations of a 5 year old with diabetes, a 12 year old with diabetes and an adolescent with diabetes. For example:

  • a 5 year old with diabetes may do their finger prick test but not read their result or inject
  • a 12 year old who has had diabetes for some time will probably have the knowledge and skills to do all of these
  • a 14 year old may not carry out blood glucose testing at all despite them having the skills and knowledge to be able to do so

Supporting a child living with diabetes

Knowing what to do and how to do it does not always mean we put it in to practice! We know that it is better for our health and wellbeing to have a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise. Knowing we should exercise regularly and having the skills (we know how to walk, jog, cycle) does not mean that we always do this. Having support (a 'buddy') can often make a difference – having someone to encourage, remind, praise.

In the same way, people with diabetes (of all ages) need support and encouragement. We know that even for young people who can self manage their diabetes, support from someone close to them (especially parents) is essential in having good diabetes management. Having diabetes can sometimes be a pain and having someone who can understand this and stay positive really seems to help young people with their diabetes control.

The support and encouragement needed depends on age and stage. When the person with diabetes is younger, or newly diagnosed, they may need supervision as well as support. They need someone to remind and help them with:

  • testing and reading the results
  • decisions around food and exercise
  • insulin adjustment and with giving injections

Moving towards self management

Helping children and young people with diabetes to move towards self management has 3 key parts:

  • having knowledge
  • having skills
  • having support

The diabetes team can provide information and teach skills for managing diabetes for children and young people with diabetes as well as their parents and others who look after them and support them.

Please contact your local diabetes team if you would like further information on this or other ways to support your child or young person with diabetes as they move through the stages of childhood to adolescence.

You may find the general information in our parenting teens section useful

'Streetwise' resources - essential information for teens and young adults with diabetes

The Clinical Network for Children and Young People's Diabetes Services has adapted a collection of 'Streetwise' leaflets. These provide essential information for teens and young adults with diabetes. The leaflets have been especially designed to help discussion between diabetes treating teams and young people about aspects of diabetes and youth health. They are aimed at helping young people who are moving from paediatric/adolescent diabetes services to young adult services.

Streetwise: Looking after type 1 diabetes (PDF, 2.4MB)

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Streetwise: Annual review for young people with diabetes (PDF, 2.15MB)

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Streetwise: Top tips for school and college with diabetes (PDF, 2.75MB)

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Streetwise: Sensible drinking with diabetes (PDF, 1.01MB)

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Streetwise: Exercise with diabetes (PDF, 1.9MB)

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Streetwise: Insulin pumps with diabetes (PDF, 2.45MB)

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Streetwise: Sex and beyond with diabetes (PDF, 2.47MB)

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Streetwise: Body piercing and tattoos with diabetes (PDF, 2.63MB)

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Streetwise: Travelling with diabetes (PDF, 2.81MB)

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Streetwise: Emotional wellbeing with diabetes (PDF, 2.62MB)

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The Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledges the cooperation of the Starship Children's Hospital, Auckland District Health Board. The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the National Clinical Network Children and Young People's Diabetes Services.

This page last reviewed 04 May 2016.
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