Back to school prep
There is nothing quite like the smell of pencils and the sight of a crisp uniform to bring memories of your school days flooding back. Whilst going to school can be idyllic for children with diabetes, managing a condition like diabetes can be difficult even in the best of circumstances. Add in the prospect of new teachers, a new school, a new routine, or new friends and going back to school with diabetes can make you or your child feel anxious. Here are some tips to make going back to school easier.
Tips for primary school
Sending a child with diabetes to primary school is often an exercise in faith. If your child is dependent on insulin injections when eating meals or snacks, at class parties, on outings and excursions, these activities can be a minefield of uncertainty. If your child’s school is not equipped with a full-time nurse, you may find yourself having to be a diabetes educator for teachers, administrators and office staff. Just remember that you are your child's best advocate for receiving the help needed to remain healthy while they get an education.
Most schools open days or even weeks before students arrive. This is an ideal time to arrange a meeting with your child's teachers, administrators and any relevant healthcare professionals. Together, you can construct a plan for when and how your child will receive insulin throughout the day. You may be asked to bring documentation from your healthcare team showing how often your child should check their blood sugar, how often they should eat, how much insulin they should take (if necessary) and what to do if an emergency arises.
Diabetes UK offers guidance and several downloadable resources for parents and schools which can be found here.
You can also visit your local Diabetes Centre to pick up a free copy of the “How to Manage a Mammoth” book which supports children and their parents living with diabetes. Written by Dr Rose Stewart, a short video version of the book can be found here.
Encourage your child to be open
Studies have shown that people with diabetes who feel shame are less likely to properly care for themselves1. For many children, feelings of shame are often due, in part, to feeling different from their classmates. This can lead to skipping insulin doses or refusal to check blood sugar levels. On the other hand, if your child is able to be up front with their classmates about diabetes and dispel any myths about their condition, classmates are more likely to treat them the same as anyone else.
Have a plan
In addition to helping teachers and assistants know how to care for your child, it is important to have a plan for the unexpected. Class parties, excursions, snacks, and goodies pose a carb calculation and dosing challenge. Participating in PE lessons or other exercise may leave your child with low blood sugar levels for the lesson immediately after if they do not have a snack on hand. While it is impossible to prepare for every scenario, thinking through the most likely possibilities can help you create a plan for your child's health.
In a perfect world, your child would never miss school due to diabetes. However, illnesses may prevent them from attending school for a few days or even longer. It is important to communicate with your child's school about absences. Laws throughout the UK require schools to make accommodations for children with diabetes to receive the same education as their classmates without diabetes2. If diabetes prevents your child from attending school for any reason, talk to your local education authority about tutoring or other accommodations.
Tips for secondary school
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.
As they enter secondary school, your child may be able to manage their own care without the direct supervision of an adult. However, if they have never given themselves an injection or calculated the carbohydrates in a meal, full independence in self-management will take time.. Naturally, the best place to practice caring for diabetes is in their own home. Encourage them to develop habits of checking blood sugar levels before meals, injecting insulin as needed and paying attention to how they feel when they have high or low blood sugar levels.
Accommodate sports and physical exercise
As they grow older, many children become more sedentary. Yet multiple studies3 have found that exercise improves insulin absorption while helping children and adolescents manage their weight. Encouraging your child to participate in sports and physical exercise at school will help them remain focused and healthy. Be sure to let teachers know what to look for and provide your child with a snack for afterwards.
Going back to school doesn't have to be stressful for parents and children with diabetes. A little preparation and a lot of communication can help your child be safe all year long.
The views expressed in the Accu-Chek blog are not necessarily those of Roche Diabetes Care Limited. The content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely - you must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content. Although we make reasonable efforts to ensure that the content is up to date, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content is accurate, complete or up-to-date.
- Archer, A. Shame and diabetes self-management. Practical Diabetes (2014). https://wchh.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pdi.1842 (Accessed 5th August 2022)
- Diabetes UK. Legal information about diabetes in schools [Online]. Available at: www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/your-child-and-diabetes/schools/di... (Accessed 11th July 2022).
- Robertson, K., Adolfsson, P., Scheiner, G/. Hanas, R., & Riddell, M. Exercise in children and adolescents with diabetes. Pediatric Diabetes (2009). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1399-5448.2009.00567.x (Accessed 5th August 2022)