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Diabetes Distress in Children



  • Diabetes distress means that your child feels overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, worried, or angry because of the demands of living with diabetes.
  • It helps to work with your child’s treatment team. They can help you and your child deal with the physical and emotional effects of diabetes. Take things one step at a time. Don’t try to change everything at once.
  • Consider joining a parents’ support group and having your child join a children’s support group in your area. Sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who have similar struggles.


What is diabetes distress?

Diabetes is a long-term disease that never goes away completely but can be managed successfully. Living with diabetes is not easy. Besides dealing with symptoms, it also involves keeping track of medicines, checking blood glucose (sugar), seeing healthcare providers, and making lifestyle changes. Diabetes distress means that your child feels overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, worried, or angry because of all that your child deals with. Signs that your child may have diabetes distress, or that you as a caregiver have distress, may include feeling that:

  • Your child’s healthcare provider doesn't know enough about diabetes and diabetes care.
  • Diabetes takes too much of your child’s mental and physical energy every day.
  • Your child may not be able to manage diabetes day-to-day and keep up with the demands of living with diabetes.
  • Your child gets angry, scared, or sad when thinking about living with diabetes.
  • The healthcare provider doesn't give your child clear enough directions on how to manage diabetes.
  • Your child is not testing blood glucose levels often enough and worries about dangerously out of control blood glucose.
  • Your family or your child’s friends plan activities that conflict with your child’s schedule, or they want your child to eat foods that are not part of your child’s meal plan.
  • The healthcare provider doesn't take your child’s concerns seriously enough.
  • Your child is not sticking closely enough to a healthy meal plan and must think about food choices all the time.
  • Friends or family don't appreciate how hard it is to live with diabetes and don’t seem to support your child.
  • Your child isn’t always motivated to take care of diabetes needs.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Work with your child’s treatment team. They can help you and your child deal with the physical and emotional effects of diabetes. Make sure you meet with your child’s treatment team:
    • When your child is first diagnosed
    • Once a year for a checkup or more often as advised by the treatment team
    • If your child develops new symptoms or a new health condition
    • If your child seems stressed, frustrated, sad, worried, or angry
    • If other things in your child's life change that might affect the way your child manages diabetes

    Depression is different from diabetes distress. Depression is feeling sad, hopeless, and uninterested in daily life to the point that it keeps your child from doing everyday tasks. If your child feels this way, talk with your child’s healthcare provider. Your child’s healthcare provider may advise different treatments and may refer you to a mental health professional who works with children who have diabetes.

  • Look for support groups in your area. It is helpful for you to talk with other parents who have similar struggles. It is important to take care of your own emotional needs and stress as well as your child’s needs.

    Support groups for kids help your child know that other children are dealing with diabetes. Groups provide a safe place for your child to share feelings and learn ways to manage diabetes.

  • Work with a certified diabetes educator. Knowing how diabetes affects the body helps your child better understand how treatments, medicines, and lifestyle changes can help with managing the condition and staying as healthy as possible. Know what symptoms need to be treated right away and when to call your child’s healthcare provider. Ask if a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is right for your child. The device can help you closely monitor your child’s blood glucose levels and decrease fear that the glucose levels will fall to low or rise too high.
  • Offer support. Offer support in a way that helps your child feel in control. Don't nag or criticize. Get siblings and other family members involved. Teach them how to help and what to do in case of emergency.
  • Check your child’s medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your child's healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the prescription and nonprescription medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and supplements your child takes. Make sure that your child takes all medicines as directed by your child’s provider. Talk to the provider if your child has problems taking medicine or if the medicines don't seem to be working.
  • Set up a routine. A key part of managing diabetes is setting up a good routine. It helps if you and your child plan and follow a schedule for meals, physical activity, sleep, and medicines. A good routine can help keep your child’s blood glucose from getting too high or too low.
  • Help your child learn to manage stress. Teach children and teens to practice deep breathing or other relaxation techniques when feeling stressed. Help your child find ways to relax. For example, your child could take up a hobby, listen to music, play, watch movies, or take walks.
  • Take care of your child’s health. Make sure your child follows a healthy meal plan and gets enough sleep and physical activity every day. As much as possible, join your child in following a healthy meal plan and being physically active. It's motivating if a child with diabetes doesn't feel like he or she is the only one who is cutting back on foods such as ice cream, chips, sugary drinks, candy, and cake.
  • Talk to your child about the risks of smoking, using e-cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using drugs.
  • Encourage your child to talk about diabetes, treatment, and feelings. Really listen to what your child says. Let your child know that it’s OK to feel sad, confused, angry, or afraid. Understand that low blood glucose can cause a child with diabetes to feel shaky, weak, confused, and irritable. Try not to take it personally.

Contact your child’s healthcare provider if you have any questions or your child’s symptoms seem to be getting worse. Get emergency care if your child has thoughts of suicide or self-harm, violence, or harming others.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2022-02-23
Last reviewed: 2022-02-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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