Explaining diabetes to a child.
Explaining diabetes to a child can be a little tricky—how do you walk the fine line between informing them and scaring them? How do we talk about the emotional parts of diabetes in a way they can easily understand?
Even with the best intentions and optimal care, there's no set path that diabetes takes. That makes diabetes discussions even trickier, because every case is different. Talking about your experience with your family is paramount, and fortunately, there are healthy, productive ways you can discuss diabetes with kids of all ages.
Meet Them Where They Are
Kids might not be ready for a deep discussion about chronic illness and what's required to manage it, so make sure your talks are age-appropriate. When in doubt, err on the lighter side to help minimize anxiety for you and your child.
There are many resources available that can make explaining diabetes to a child a little easier. For younger children, there's a stuffed animal bear that walks through the mechanics of diabetes management, and you can also find several books geared towards preschool and elementary school-aged children. Older children can benefit from educational resources found on websites like JDRF, Children with Diabetes, and the Rite Aid Diabetes Solution Center.
While resources are terrific for hands-on learning, there's still a lot of value in casual diabetes discussions at home. If you're checking your blood sugar at the kitchen table, let your kids watch and ask them if they have any questions about it. Talk about the numbers, if you feel comfortable sharing them, and make the process of your diabetes management part of the normal ebb and flow of your home. Things that are familiar are often less scary.
While taking into account your child's age, infuse your talks with honesty. When your preschooler asks if pricking your finger hurts, be honest, but also tell them that knowing your blood sugar number is the best way to stay on top of your diabetes. If your elementary school-aged child has questions about how low blood sugar feels, share some of the symptoms while explaining strategies for fixing it. People are empowered by information, and kids are no exception. They'll feel better knowing they can provide help if you need it.
Be prepared for more difficult questions about diabetes, like "Does diabetes scare you?" and "Will I get diabetes, too?" These are challenging moments, and there are no easy answers, but kids will be comforted knowing they'll be cared for no matter what life throws their way. Remind your child that their questions about diabetes are always welcomed, and reassure them that you'll do your best to answer them honestly.
There can be a lot of scary parts of diabetes discussions—complications, hypoglycemic episodes, health insurance . . . the list can feel long and daunting. It's important to remind your children that there's also hope. Technology and medicine are developing at a rapid rate to improve quality of life and health outcomes, and people with diabetes are living longer, healthier lives. With support from our families and friends, diabetes is something we can feel hopeful about! Saying these things out loud, especially when your children can hear, can help paint a more inspiring picture of life with diabetes.
Much like living with diabetes, explaining it to your children is a lifelong process. Their expectations and perspectives are shaped by watching you. Through open discussions, honest answers, and positive moments, any fears will be replaced with hope, helping change the perceptions of diabetes.
By Kerri Sparling
Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986, when she was diagnosed at the age of seven. She is an internationally recognized diabetes advocate. Kerri is the creator and author of Six Until Me, which she established in 2005 and which remains one of the most widely-read diabetes patient blogs, reaching a global audience of patients, caregivers, and others in the industry. She has been featured on NPR, US News and World Report, CBNC, Yahoo! Health, LA Times, and The Lancet, among other national outlets.
Jerry the Bear, Jerry the Bear
Lilly Diabetes, Lilly Diabetes and Disney: A Unique Collaboration
Children With Diabetes, Living With Diabetes
Joslin Diabetes Center, Classroom Presentation on Diabetes for Elementary School Age Children