April 18, 2024


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7 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Diabetes

5 min read

Diabetes is a condition that affects the whole family. Therefore, it’s vital for your children to know about your diagnosis.

The day I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was a complete shock.

At the time, my future seemed bleak and I was terrified. This diagnosis would not just affect me, but also my husband and our three children who were 8, 6, and 4 at the time.

I spent the majority of that day alone, crying and grieving what had been my life before I was diagnosed with diabetes. I finally had the strength and composure to talk about it with my children, and my husband and I arranged a family meeting to share the life changing news.

After we told the kids, my daughter was very concerned and had a lot of questions. My younger sons did not understand the information immediately, but they needed assurance that I would not die from diabetes.

If you’re a parent who’s recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you’re probably wondering how that will affect your children. Even if we don’t want to tell our children about our illnesses, our children still need to know.

Here are 7 tips for having this important conversation with your children.

Plan when and where you’ll have the conversation. Prepare what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Consider asking someone for advice, playing a role, or researching resources before speaking. Remember to keep your tone appropriate and your body language positive.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should frame health issues using language that fits the child’s developmental stage. For example:

  • Ages 2–6: Parents should explain things simply, such as: “Mommy is sick, but she will be OK. She was given some medicine that is going to help her get better.”
  • Ages 7–11: Parents can explain a little more, such as: “Mom is sick. She has diabetes. Do you know what diabetes is?” If your child doesn’t know what diabetes is, explain the condition in simple terms: “Diabetes results in high blood sugar levels.”
  • Ages 12 and older: Parents can be more transparent and upfront when discussing the condition, including treatment and uncertainty.

Take into account how your child comprehends and processes information. It’s important to inform children — but also give them time to digest it. Respond honestly, in simple language, to your child’s reaction.

Be prepared to answer questions about your condition, like “Why can’t you eat this?” and “What happens when you take insulin?” You may also have to answer some tough emotional questions, like “Will you die? Will you be sick? Will I get diabetes, too?”

Use age-appropriate movies, books, or online resources to help kids learn more about diabetes. Diabetes organizations, your local library, or online resources are all good places to find children’s resources.

The most important thing to tell your child is that diabetes can be managed, even if you still don’t know what to expect.

Be available to answer any questions your kids may have. Remain positive when addressing their concerns. Reassure them that they’re loved, that they’ll be kept safe, and that all feelings are acceptable.

When your child has a clear understanding of your diabetes, they’ll worry less.

A chronic condition diagnosis can cause huge changes in a family’s environment. For example, with diabetes, the foods you keep at home and your routines may change.

Explain to your child the changes that will be made to the home environment and discuss ways in which they can help support you.

Children of any age should understand the importance of diabetes gear, including meters, test strips, insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), insulin, syringes, and oral medications.

Let your child know that these items are all off-limits, and do your part by keeping all supplies and medications out of reach in a secure place to avoid accidental injury or ingestion.

It’s important to teach your children how to recognize the signs of high or low blood sugar levels.

For example, there are times when I’m very sluggish and that normally means my blood sugar levels are low. If it appears that I’m especially moody, then my blood sugar may be high.

My children can recognize this and say, “Mom, have you checked your blood sugar?” or “Mom, are you OK? Do you need something to eat?”

Also teach your kids how to provide you with support in tough times and emergencies if they arise. Tell them about your type of diabetes, if you use insulin, and if you wear a pump, so they can communicate with others about your health in case of a crisis.

Keep a list of your medical conditions and medications in a place where it’s easily accessible to your kids, either on paper or a phone.

If you have older children, be sure they know where your glucose tablets, glucagon, and insulin are located. Kids of all ages should be taught to call 911 in an emergency — like if you’re not talking or responding appropriately, are unconscious or passed out, or having a seizure.

There’s a good chance your child will be worried that they will also automatically be diagnosed with diabetes.

While genes can play a role in the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this doesn’t mean your children will develop the disease.

Let them know that your type 2 diagnosis does not increase their risk for type 1 diabetes, and if they’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you’d know how to keep them healthy.

Talk about how they can help prevent type 2 diabetes through healthy eating and regular exercise, and encourage your children to work on these as a family.

Diabetes is a condition that affects the whole family. Therefore, it’s vital for your children to know about your diagnosis.

Be transparent and allow your children to love and support you the best way they can. Living through such an illness together will ultimately bring you closer together as a family, as life takes on a whole new meaning.

Rather than letting diabetes control your family, embrace every moment you spend with them fearlessly and without limits.

CJ Walker, a mom of three and wife from Virginia, has been living with type 2 diabetes since 2019. She’s a fervent advocate for chronic illness, especially diabetes. Diabetes stigma, awareness, and prevention are at the forefront of her advocacy efforts, as well as chronic illness discrimination in the workplace, healthcare, and education. In addition to her work with The Genetic Diabetic Blog, she’s been published on Type2Diabetes.com, The Mighty, and Medium.

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