How to explain diabetes to your children
If you're a parent who has been recently diagnosed with diabetes, you're probably wondering how your diagnosis will also affect your children. Even though you may want to spare them from any upsetting news, they need to know. Here's how to start and continue this important conversation.
Start with the good news
Even if you're still feeling uncertain, let your first message to your child be "everything is okay." It's important that they know that diabetes is manageable, and that you're going to do everything you can to stay healthy. Stay positive when you break the news, too. Children know when their mom or dad is worried, and they'll start to worry, too.
Make it age-appropriate
Whether you're newly diagnosed or you've had diabetes since before your child was born, they'll eventually have questions. Keep it simple for the young ones, and let their questions guide the conversation. Eventually, the questions will get more detailed, like "Why can't you eat that?" or "What does insulin do?" Be prepared for some hard-hitting emotional questions, too.
The "Will I get diabetes too?" talk
At some point, your child is probably going to ask this question. While it's true that type 1 and type 2 diabetes may have genetic influences, let them know that it's not likely. Even more important, if it were to happen, you'd know how to keep them healthy. This is also a good time to bring up the importance of healthy eating and exercise for the whole family.
Tell the truth, always
Ask your children what they already know about diabetes. Listen for their fears and any misinformation they may have. For example, they may be wondering if diabetes is contagious or if you can eat sugar. Gently correct any wrong information as simply and as clearly as you can. Be honest about things like how your blood sugar affects your mood, too. The more your child understands about your diabetes, the less they'll worry about you.
Some days will be difficult, so it's a good idea to teach your child how to help you through a scary moment should you need it. For example, make sure they can reach your stash of glucose tablets, or that they know how to call 911 if you've become unconscious. Also, practice a few talking points about your diabetes—what type you have, if you take insulin, if you wear a pump, etc.—in case they ever need to talk to others about your health.
Children of any age need to understand how important your diabetes gear is. Meters, test strips, insulin pumps, CGM, insulin, syringes, oral medications—let your child know that they're all off limits unless you specifically ask them to get it for you. A quick intro to safe sharps disposal might be a good idea, too.
More Tips that can help
- If your child is old enough, invite them to attend a diabetes education class with you.
- If you have more than 1 child, talk to them individually first, then together. This allows each child to ask questions for themselves.
- Explain that people may stare at you if you have to prick your finger or inject insulin in public, but that they're probably just being curious.
- Involve your children in meal planning at least once a week, so they start to understand your nutritional needs first-hand.
- If you get a question you can't answer, fact-check online together. The Accu-Chek Web site, The American Diabetes Association, and Kids Health are all reliable information sources.
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