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Diabetes Tips for Kids, Tweens and Teens

Here are five ways to help kids and teens control their blood sugar -- and still let them be kids.

Blood sugar control is a challenge for anyone with diabetes -- but it's particularly difficult for kids and teens who aren't experienced in meal planning and preparation, yet often have to be even more careful than adults. Standing out or being treated differently is another potential hurdle for kids with diabetes, so it's important to find diabetes management strategies that don't interfere with schoolwork, activities, and plain old fun. Here, five kid- and teen-friendly tips to help your child live better with diabetes:

1. Teach Key People How to Help
Learning to manage diabetes independently is a major goal for kids and teens with diabetes. After all, there will be times Mom or Dad aren't around to help. Identifying key people and talking to them about how to recognize the signs of high and low blood sugar can help prevent scary situations. Coaches, teachers, parents of friends, and others can become part of a support system so that a youngster never feels alone during a diabetic emergency.

2. Pack a Lunch that Packs a Punch
Lunchtime becomes extremely important for kids and teens with diabetes, since it's their main chance to fit blood sugar-balancing nutrition into a busy day. And it's just too easy to grab a fried fast-food meal or something from the vending machine if you don't bring plenty of tempting options from home. Pack a sandwich of lean meat on whole wheat bread, or send leftovers from dinner. Don't forget diabetes-friendly nibbles like nuts, vegetable sticks, and whole grains to keep kids going all day long.

3. Be Proactive About Being Active
Exercise causes blood sugar levels to drop both during exertion and afterwards, so kids should do a glucose check right before exercise and (if exercise goes on for over 45 minutes) at the "half-way" point as well. Be aware that when kids are involved in a fun physical activity, adrenaline can keep blood sugar from dropping until they stop what they're doing and take a break. "I tell parents to have a snack ready when you're child gets out of the pool or comes off the field," says endocrinologist John "Jack" Merendino. Check blood glucose as soon as possible after exercise, and keep monitoring it for several hours.

4. Plan Ahead for Party Time
It's hard for kids and teens to say "no" to sugary treats when everyone else is digging in. So it's a good thing nutritionists no longer tell people with diabetes they have to avoid sugar altogether. Instead, help your child get good at carbohydrate counting. Often, kids can indulge in cake and ice cream along with everyone else, as long as the portion is small and other carbs are cut to balance it out. If your child uses insulin shots, a shot before food may help them prepare for the glucose surge. Talk to your pediatrician about how much and when.

5. Prepare Carefully for Sleep-Aways
Keep a "sleep-over" bag packed with a glucose testing kit, medications, insulin supplies, medical information and phone numbers, fast-acting snacks, and a first aid kit. And notify anyone who's going to be feeding your child ahead of time, so that dietary needs can be met. "You don't want a self-conscious teen in a situation where they have to ask for something different for dinner," says Jack Merendino, MD, "because they might not be comfortable doing that." For longer stays, talk to a responsible adult, such as a camp counselor, beforehand and tell them exactly what your child needs, what to watch out for, and what to do in a blood sugar emergency.

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