What would you say is the worst thing about having a toddler? The obsession with the word no, and a refusal to comply with any request? The sleepless nights, as your child won’t sleep, or will sleep, but not in his own bed, and only for intermittent bursts? His unpredictability, and tendency to tantrums out of nowhere? His uncanny knack of figuring out a way round all your best laid plans? Or his lack of common sense and logic, which frequently puts him in dangerous situations, as you hurtle in to save him?

It’s the same with diabetes.

Toddlers and diabetes at Christmas

Managing diabetes at Christmas

I’ve written before about how having a child with diabetes is like caring for a newborn. Since Christmas I’ve altered my view somewhat. Actually, diabetes is unpredictable, stubborn, and ready to throw a spanner in the works at any moment, much like a difficult toddler. And whilst Christmas is a magical time, all honest parents will admit that toddlers can also be sheer hell when they’re out of routine, much like diabetes. Here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with both toddlers and diabetes at Christmas.

Different bedtimes

  • Advice for parents of toddlers: if you shove a mince pie into a toddler and let him stay up late, he’s going to get over-excited. Expect unpredictable behaviour and sleep patterns. Be prepared for nocturnal present frenzies at any moment.
  • Advice for parents of diabetics: happy moods do all sorts to a diabetic. He might go to bed with a high blood sugar on Christmas Eve from all the excitement. Try not to be complacent – he could very well have a dangerous low at 2am – from all the excitement. Be prepared to hide all the presents Santa brought, and stay up till 3am to replace them unseen.

Less activity

  • Advice for parents of toddlers: when you leave your child on the sofa for hours on end staring at the TV, he will stew in his own lethargy until his energy boils over into full-blown hysteria. Re-read Toddler Taming so you’re ready with your best negotiating skills, and have a bottle of wine to hand in case of setbacks.
  • Advice for parents of diabetics: kids need a day off, right? A harmless Christmas film, like everyone else. Bank some sleep in advance though. Sitting on the sofa is probably the diabetic’s biggest enemy. The mince pie is fine, you have insulin for that. But every hour on the sofa builds up insulin resistance, requiring extra injections, until by the end of the holidays he’s on double his usual dose. It’ll take you till the early hours every night to get a handle on it. And be prepared for a crash when he goes back to school. Alternatively, don’t let him watch TV, ever, and make him do an hour on the trampoline every morning. Oh, and the Xbox? Hide Super Mario – Just Dance is the only game you have now.


  • Advice for parents of toddlers: his mood swings will be mercurial from the alternating levels of input, as you swerve between enthusing over his gifts and ignoring him in favour of the oven and the Christmas dinner. Make sure there is always a guest in the house who can help with Lego instructions while you cater for the masses. Try to purchase the patience of a saint on Amazon well before the festive season. Also, wine is helpful here.
  • Advice for parents of diabetics: excitement, tiredness and changes to routine are all going to affect the diabetic mischief-maker. You could just give up, and accept that blood sugar levels will be unhealthy for a couple of weeks – not tempting, I know. Alternatively, you could get your child to prick his fingers 18 times a day so you can react to out-of-range levels quickly. Or you could forgo the the £50 gift for your auntie, and spend it on a device to stick under your child’s skin that will tell you what’s happening to him 24:7. Whatever you do, don’t drink wine. You’re going to need all your faculties at 3am.

Changes in environment

  • Advice for parents of toddlers: next you’re going to take your toddler out of his comfort zone, to different places, visiting grandmas and cousins who serve different food, have puppies, ponds, and unlocked knife drawers. Don’t sit down, or close your eyes. Ever.
  • Advice for parents of diabetics: be prepared. Take three suitcases full of snacks, just in case. Take four times as much medical equipment as you need; you’re bound to lose some, break some, and forget some. And never let your child leave the room without sugar. When he goes to the loo in a restaurant and gets locked in, you’re going to beg the staff to kick down the door or call the fire brigade. And that gets awkward.

Christmas with a toddler is the extreme of all emotions. It’s a joy, but it leaves you exhausted. The great thing about toddlers is that eventually they grow up. Lucky old diabetes stays forever young and full of life. Stay on your toes, and always take sugar to the loo.

For more on what it’s like to live with diabetes read Lara Brockmann’s story about Type 1 diabetes.

Difficult toddler image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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