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Making Fingersticks and Insulin Shots Easier for Kids With Diabetes

Kids with diabetes need to check their blood sugars every day. That’s a key part of keeping diabetes under control. Kids with type 1 diabetes and some kids with type 2 diabetes need insulin shots too. For kids newly diagnosed with diabetes, it can take some time to adjust to needlesticks.

Ways to Help Your Child

You may feel tempted to skip an injection or fingerstick when your child argues or cries. But skipping it isn’t a good idea. Your child’s health depends on daily pokes and shots to keep their blood sugars in check.

To help ease your child’s worries:

  • Make it routine. Just like brushing teeth and taking showers, fingersticks and insulin injections are healthy habits for your child to learn. Now is a good time to create habits to last a lifetime. Teach your child that the finger pokes and shots help them take care of their body.
  • Invite participation. Help your child begin to take charge of their diabetes care. Young kids, depending on their readiness, might gather supplies, read the glucose meter test result aloud, choose the spot or finger for testing, or press the plunger on the syringe or pen. Encourage your child to take more control over time. Before long, they’ll be doing much more on their own (with your supervision, of course).
  • Listen to your child. Let your child express their fears. Talk openly and tell them it's OK to dislike needle pokes. Remind them of a time they were brave and how they got through it. Assure them they can handle this too.
  • Use simple words to explain. Depending on your child’s age, it may be hard for them to understand why they need these. Explain that they help keep them healthy and feeling good. Let them know that when they follow the doctor’s instructions, they will feel better and be less likely to miss school or fun activities.
  • Keep teddy handy. Some kids find comfort in holding a special stuffed animal, doll, or blanket during an injection or blood test.
  • Give hugs afterward. Giving a hug, pat on the back, or spending a few minutes together can be reassuring for kids after getting a fingerstick or shot.
  • Offer rewards. Try stickers or other small non-food prizes to encourage cooperation. Your child can add a sticker to their chart after each completed needlestick.
  • Give praise thoughtfully. When your child handles a shot well, let them know. You could say, “I see you’re trying hard to do this. You sat nice and still today.”

Set Yourself Up for Success

Giving your child shots and doing fingersticks gets easier over time. These tips may help you get there sooner:

  • Be ready. Gather and set up all your supplies out of sight of your child, if possible.
  • Keep it short and relaxed. Focus on the task and try to stay calm from start to finish.
  • Find a distraction. Have your child blow a whistle or party blower, count, sing, hug a toy, or think of something good when getting an injection. An older child might try wearing headphones, watch a video, or do belly breathing.
  • Feed your baby. Babies who need needlesticks may not notice them too much if they’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. You can comfort your baby in other ways too.
  • Change it up. To prevent needle soreness, rotate through different parts of the body.  Let each area heal for a day or so before using it again. Try injections in the thigh, abdomen, or upper arm. For finger pokes, try different fingers and sides.
  • Prevent discomfort. Use insulin at room temperature. And be sure to let the rubbing alcohol on the site dry before giving a shot.
  • Try ice. Take the edge off before a poke by slightly numbing the area. You can gently rub the skin with an ice cube wrapped in a plastic bag or washcloth for a few minutes.

Who Can Offer Support?

With type 1 diabetes, getting the right support can go a long way. Turn to these resources:

  • Another caregiver. Is there another adult — a spouse, partner or relative nearby — who can share in the caregiving? When you can count on another adult, you’ve got a partner to help when you run into challenges.
  • Other parents. It can be stressful to give shots to a child who cries, resists, or gets angry. You’re not alone. Find other parents of kids with diabetes (in support groups, in person, or on the internet). They may offer tips about needlesticks or managing stress.
  • Your child's diabetes health care team. Ask your child’s care team for ideas and support. They may know about techniques or devices (like insulin pens or pumps) that may be a good choice for your child.
  • A mental health specialist. Are you having a lot of conflicts about needlesticks? Turn to your care team for help. They can recommend a counselor or mental health professional familiar with this common struggle.
  • Support for your teen. Does your teen resist giving themselves needlesticks? Seek out a peer group of other teens with diabetes. Getting tips from young adults their own age can go a long way. Or perhaps another trusted adult your, like a grandparent or close relative, can lend their support. And that may take a little pressure off you too.

Finger pokes and shots may be tough to get used to in the beginning. But with preparation and practice, you and your child will adjust. Before long you’ll both get more comfortable with this necessary part of your daily routine.