Talking to kids about diabetes
Finding out you have type 2 diabetes can seem like a devastating blow. As you’re trying to wrap your head around what exactly the diagnosis means for your family and your future, your doctor is telling you all the dozens of ways your lifestyle will have to change.
Later, it hits you: How are your kids going to take it?
Keeping it from them is not an option. Obviously, they’re going to see you doing the blood sugar checks and insulin injections. And they’re definitely going to notice that some of your favorite snacks are missing from the fridge.
Start with the good
After sharing the news, explain what type 2 diabetes is—that when you eat sugary foods, your body doesn’t know what to do with all the sugar, and that can cause problems for you. Of course, depending on your child’s age, you can go into more or less detail.
Then, set the right tone for their reactions and questions by explaining the positives, such as:
- Diabetes should not cause any scary episodes. Diabetes is not one of those unpredictable medical conditions that can lead to attacks, seizures, mood swings or spontaneous ER visits. If it’s managed well, there shouldn’t be any scary episodes to worry about.
- The condition is completely manageable. Explain to them the steps you’ll be taking to keep your diabetes in check. Walk them through when and how you’ll be doing blood sugar checks and insulin injections. Also, explain the healthy lifestyle changes you’ll be making from now on, like exercising regularly and cutting back on sugar.
- You have a great medical team to make sure nothing bad happens. Tell them about the diabetes educator who’s there to answer all your questions and the clinical team that makes sure your blood sugar levels stay under control. Assure them that you’ll keep them updated on how your medical visits go—or maybe they can even come with you.
Depending on how old your kids are and how much they may have already heard about diabetes, they may be aware of some of the potential future complications, such as blindness, coma and amputations. You may want to save that conversation for later down the line, but be open and honest about it if they ask.
Prepare for their initial reactions
Your kids’ reactions to your diagnosis may resemble your own reaction when the doctor first told you—shock, disappointment, maybe confusion. In that case, you may know what will help them cope. But don’t assume your kids will feel the same about your diagnosis as you do.
Before opening the discussion, prepare responses to their potential reactions:
- They’re scared or worried. They might automatically assume this means you’re going to die or have to live in the hospital. Some kids may have a concept of cancer, but not necessarily a condition like diabetes. Reassure them that millions of people live with diabetes. It’s a very manageable disease. Show them how you check your blood sugar and what you’ll need to do if it’s too high or too low.
- They want to know more. If your kids have a natural curiosity about your condition, use this discussion as a teachable moment. Explain what you know in ways they can grasp. That means making sure you can clearly define what the pancreas, insulin, and blood sugar do. Then, invite them to learn more about diabetes with you—from fundraising walks to health fairs, cooking classes to support groups.
- They think you’re contagious. Be clear here that diabetes is not something they can catch if you sneeze or share food. The last thing you want is for your kids to be nervous around you, or worse, tell visitors that you’ve got some kind of infection.
- They ask if you ate too much candy. Decide in advance whether you’d like to share with them the lifestyle habits that led to the diagnosis. But definitely explain that you have to be careful how much candy you eat now.
- They treat you like you’re sick. While sweet and well-intentioned, this reaction may end up driving you nuts. So explain early on that diabetes is not a disability. You can still do almost anything anyone else can do—just as long as you monitor your blood sugar along the way.
- They want to help. Well, there’s plenty of room for that. You may not need their help with managing the details of your condition, but encourage them to take charge of the bigger lifestyle changes you’ll be making. If you have multiple kids, give each one a different job.
Through it all, focus on keeping a positive perspective. Turn your diagnosis into something your family can learn from together.