Talking To Your Children About Your Diabetes

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While diabetes can be a scary diagnosis for you, it can also be difficult news to break to your family—especially when you have children.

Your children may have questions about your diabetes diagnosis and treatment. By taking control and steering the conversation, you can have an open, honest discussion with them that provides clarity and understanding.

Initiate the conversation: If you’ve had diabetes for a long time, your kids would most likely see glucose monitoring and insulin shots as nothing out of the ordinary. If you’ve never had a formal discussion with your kids about your diabetes, ask them if they have any questions about your diabetes. If you’re newly diagnosed, it would be best to sit down with your kids as soon as possible, so they can get accurate information straight from you.

Honesty is the best policy. Respond to their questions with honest answers. Being vague and/or evasive won’t protect them and will only cloud their understanding of diabetes. Use your diabetes supplies to illustrate what’s going on in your body. Tailor your explanation to your child’s age. Usually, a teenager is better able than a four-year-old to understand complex medical jargon.

So for a teen you may say something like, “My pancreas stopped making a hormone called insulin, so I use this needle [or pump] to give myself a shot of the missing hormone and help my pancreas work correctly. ”

But for a young child you may want to simplify your response and say, “My body does not make insulin so I take insulin in this injection.” Remember that young children can view things very differently than adults.

Debbie Butler, MSW, CDE in Joslin’s Program for Children, Teens and Young Adults says, “Young children can be very concrete and when a young child hears the word ‘diabetes’ they sometimes focus on the first half of the word and wonder if you will ‘die’ because you have ‘diabetes.’ So you may need to tell your young child that just because the word diabetes has the sound ‘die’ in it, it does not mean that you are going to die from diabetes. You can explain that you are taking care of your diabetes by taking injections, checking blood glucose, meeting with a diabetes health care team, etc. and that you hope to live a long healthy life with diabetes.”

Stay calm, cool and collected. Your kids may have serious questions about your illness and complications, so keep the conversation focused on strengthening their knowledge and understanding of diabetes. Don’t get wrapped up in the “what ifs” related to complications. While diabetes can be unpredictable and difficult to control, the way you address it with your family doesn’t have to be. By controlling the tenor and tone of the conversation, you can release your kids from worrying about your health.

Prepare them for emergencies. Make sure your kids—regardless of their age— know what to do in case of an emergency. Address this important information with them:

  • where to find emergency medical information;
  • whom to call in case of an emergency; and
  • what you need when your glucose levels are low.

Also, while you should make sure that your diabetes supplies and tools are out of reach of your children, you should feel free to let your kids assist you in, for example, getting juice or glucose tablets. Then they will understand how to help if needed.

Diabetes is part of your life and information about your condition should be shared with all of your family members, no matter how young they may be. The younger your kids are when you bring them into the diabetes discussion, the better, as long as you keep the conversation age appropriate. Both you and they benefit when they have an accurate picture of what diabetes is and how you are treating it.

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