We all know that kids should eat a healthy diet and exercise. But for children with diabetes, a healthful diet and regular exercise are critically important for disease management. So how can parents motivate their diabetic child?

First, it’s important to know that there is no such thing as a “diabetic diet” or special “diabetic exercises.” A child with diabetes needs to eat balanced, nutritious foods and exercise at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, just like everyone else. Unlike most kids, children with diabetes may experience immediate consequences of a poor diet and lack of exercise due to spikes in blood sugar. That’s really the only difference.

The problem is consistency, which requires discipline and motivation. Unfortunately, there is no single motivator that works for all children. The best way for a diabetic child to keep healthy is for the entire family to keep healthy. Children model their parents and siblings behavior, so if everyone is eating a balanced, nutritious meal, they will too. If walking the dog after dinner is a family activity, then the child with diabetes will meet the exercise goal NOT because of the disease, but because it’s what the family does.

As a pediatrician the most common problem I see is among my diabetic patients is the family treats them differently – either making special meals for the diabetic child or being fearful of them ‘doing too much’ or being too active. These behaviors are harmful to both the health and attitude of diabetic children because they reinforce the child’s sense of being different, sick, or fragile.


My advice to parents is: balance and moderation are key to successful diabetes management. It’s OK to have a piece or two of candy or a slice of birthday cake, as long as it doesn’t become a daily thing. If your child wants to skip exercise for a day or two, it’s also OK.


It’s important to speak candidly with your pediatrician about concerning behaviors or major changes – like any new exercise routine that will really step up your child’s activity level. Your doctor will let you know about any changes in testing schedule, medication, or other things you might need to think about, but only if given with a realistic picture of your child’s diet and exercise. And, it’s also important to assure adherence to your pediatrician’s treatment plan by making sure your child is taking their medication, testing per schedule, etc.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the entire family. Instead of focusing on the problems associated with parenting a child with a chronic disease, think about the positives of modeling healthy eating and lifestyle choices for parents and siblings alike.

Provided by: Mark Patton, MD MVP Kids Care