7 ways to help your child with diabetes have a great school year

Going to school can be exciting and scary for any child. Here's how to make it a great one.

The beginning of a new school year can be exciting and a little overwhelming for any child, and diabetes can add some additional emotions to the mix.

While preparing paperwork, gathering supplies, and making plans with your school team about your child’s health, it can be easy to forget that your child is just, well, a kid! Make sure to check in with your child and consider his or her needs during this time of transition.

Here are the 7 things you can do to set your child up for a great school year.


1. Empower your child with choices and the ability to be involved in the back to school process

Your child cannot choose whether or not to bring diabetes to school with them, but you can give them back a bit of control by incorporating them into some important decisions related to going to school with diabetes.

  • Would your child like to help you explain diabetes to the class or teachers?
  • Demonstrate how to do a blood sugar check for the school nurse?
  • Pick out favorite low snacks for each classroom?

2. Review the diabetes school plan with your child

What sort of information does your child think is important to include in a school diabetes plan? Does your child know where to check a blood sugar and access supplies? Who to go to for help if not feeling well? Does your child know how and when to communicate with you about what may be happening at school?


3. Support understanding

There are many wonderful resources to learn about diabetes across the developmental spectrum including toys, accessories for stuffed animals, apps, books, science experiments, videos, and more. Check out some of our favorites!


4. Practice information-sharing together

How a child tells and shares his or her story can be a powerful and important moment with peers who will ask about diabetes or visible gadgets. Practice answering questions together before school starts. For example:

“What is diabetes?”
“Did you eat too much sugar?”
“What’s that on your arm?”

Role playing these conversations with your child can help them feel more comfortable and confident when responding to these questions in the moment. Educating peers has the potential to transform questions that can feel threatening or isolating into deeper connections.

If your child does not want to share information about diabetes with others, you can practice how to tell peers this as well, such as, “I don’t feel like talking about my diabetes right now, but I would like to play Legos with you. What do you think we should build?”


5. Connect with others with T1D

Children with diabetes are not alone! It is crucial for children and teens to realize they share the same experiences with many others also going to school, playing sports, making friends, learning an instrument, and living life with T1D.

Opportunities such as social activities with others with T1D or diabetes camp offer a chance to connect with others who understand your child’s experience. School and other activities with T1D can feel more normal and less daunting when your child has connected with others who are doing it too! You can request to link up with a T1D mentor family in your area or find a diabetes camp near you!


6. Make it special

Starting school or going back to school is a milestone. Consider a fun way to celebrate your child and his or her diabetes care! Whether it’s drawing a silly face on a bottle of insulin, gluing googly eyes on an insulin pen, picking out a custom pump skin, unique censor tape, or cool new medical ID, putting a little diabetes humor into your child’s back to school prep can help your family focus on the fun and excitement of this time as well.


7. Validate your child’s feelings and encourage

Give your child opportunities to express his or her feelings, and allow room for all kinds of feelings to be shared. It’s okay for things not to feel okay all of the time, and it’s important to recognize those feelings while remaining encouraging.

Remind your child of other new or challenging situations that he or she has faced and that this is doable too. Ask your child to think of a time when he or she was in a tough situation. Ask your child questions like:

  • “What did you do to help yourself?”
  • “What kind of advice would you give a friend in the same situation?”

Children and teens are more likely to share honestly with you when they know that feelings and fears will not be negated, such as “I’m sure no one will even notice if you are wearing a Dexcom at school!” vs “I hear that you are feeling nervous about what people might think about you wearing a Dexcom at school. Do you have any ideas about what you might say if someone asks about it? Let’s practice that together.”

Let your child know you are always in his or her corner.

In addition to living with T1D for over 20 years, Katie Craft works as a Certified Child Life Specialist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland helping children and families cope with hospitalization and new diagnoses. She is a board member of Carb DM and volunteers with JDRF and Diabetes Youth Families. Her love of traveling has lead her on adventures through 28 countries (and counting). One of her greatest passions is helping provide programming and resources to help build resiliency and community for people living with T1D.