Parents of children with juvenile diabetes face a steep learning curve, especially during the first year after diagnosis. High blood sugars are one of the biggest problems. When my son Danny was diagnosed at the age of seven, even though we carefully counted carbohydrates and double-checked insulin doses, he had many inexplicable high blood sugars. Sometimes we wondered if it was a surge of growth hormones, other times it seemed like it was too little exercise or too long a car ride.
Ultimately, the changes that helped us the most were giving insulin at least ten minutes ahead of eating and a change in the quality of the food we ate. Each child is different, but Danny's body responded very differently to fruits, vegetables, meat, and whole grains than it did to pasta, fried food, white flour bread, desserts and white potatoes.
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I realized we had to change our diet as a family. Since we were already stressed, we made changes slowly. For example, Danny's favorite foods were macaroni and cheese and pasta with butter. Once I was sure that the pasta was raising his blood sugar levels despite the insulin, instead of having pasta as the main course, I served chicken with marinara sauce and vegetables as the main course and a small helping of pasta as a side dish. Even that did not solve the problem completely, so later, we adjusted to whole-wheat pasta or no pasta at all.
We made changes at every meal. Breakfasts became fruit shakes or eggs with a slice of whole-grain toast instead of pancakes or bagels. If Danny went to a birthday party, I made sure to fill him up ahead of time, so he would have less pizza, cake and ice cream. Although it was not always easy to pass up the bread or the desserts, Danny's blood sugars levels improved dramatically along with his overall sense of well-being. In truth, we all felt better.
In addition, we started exercising more. Sometimes a walk around the block after dinner or a game of basketball after lunch was all it took to keep his blood sugars from rising. We learned to break up long car rides with a Frisbee or soccer game halfway through the drive and to suggest a game of tag after a movie. Just remember that it is important to test your child's blood sugar before exercise to avoid lows.
Most importantly, be easy with yourselves. Taking care of a child with diabetes is not an exact science. Even if you have done everything you can think of, there will still be highs and lows. Diabetes can create a huge strain on a family. Make sure to celebrate when things go right, notice when your son or daughter is happy, and remind yourselves that things will get better over time.
Laura Plunkett is a nationally-known expert on parenting children with diabetes. Additional articles and her book The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child are available at [http://www.challengeofdiabetes.com]
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