There are some conversations that every parent slightly dreads having with their children. For most parents, the primary one is “the talk”, with all the requisite birds and bees and uncomfortable topics. For families with diabetes, though, there is a conversation that trumps even that: the diabetes and kids talk. Whether your child has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, or you have, talking to children about something as personal and often frustrating as a chronic health condition can be tricky. There is a fine balance between telling them enough to ease their minds and let them know what to expect, and telling them too much and scaring them.
While the conversation will be different depending on if you are explaining your or your children’s diabetes to your children, there are a couple of general points that will be the same in both cases. To make things easier for you, we’ve divided this post into three sections – first, general advice for talking to your children about Type 1 diabetes in general, then about explaining your own illness, and finally a section on explaining your child’s diabetes to them.
General Advice for Talking Diabetes With Your Child
Be Age Appropriate
Perhaps the hardest part of explaining any serious subject to children is remembering that no matter how adult they may seem, they are still children and do not process or react to information in the same way that you do. At the same time, you also have to keep in mind that while you may still remember when they were running around in diapers, they have probably grown a bit since then and probably don’t want to be spoken to like babies.
Walking the fine line of revealing enough information without going into overly-complex explanations or being overly blunt about topics that can be terrifying to children is a hard task. Ultimately, there is not a good guideline since every child is different, and you need to assess their ability to process and react to what you’re telling them.
Be Honest and Direct
We mentioned in an earlier post that children have an amazing ability to read between the lines and tell when they aren’t being told the full truth. It’s only natural to try to protect your children from the world, but often telling them half-truths and using euphemisms will make them more worried and scared – whatever they imagine is filling in the holes in what they’re told will almost certainly be far worse than the truth. You don’t need to be blunt, but you do need to be direct and not creep around the full nature of diabetes. It is a chronic disease, it isn’t curable, it can be very dangerous, but it IS controllable, it CAN be fought, and you CAN have a normal life with it.
Telling Your Child You Have Diabetes
Not every parent with diabetes has to have a full sit-down talk with their children. For those who were diagnosed before their children were born, all of the little rituals and routines associated with Type 1 diabetes will seem normal. Instead, children will be more likely to ask questions as they go along. Expect lots of questions related to why friends’ and classmates’ parents don’t have to prick their fingers or give themselves insulin injections. It’s important to stress that your condition is perfectly normal, and that lots of people deal with it. Use everyday experiences as opportunities to explain to your children what you’re doing and why.
Parents that get diagnosed with diabetes AFTER they already have children need to take a different approach. When you receive your diagnosis and come to terms with it, it’s important to sit your children down and explain to them what your diagnosis means, how it will affect your and their lives, and what the future can hold. You don’t need to sugar-coat things, but it IS important to stress the positives: that while diabetes is incurable, it is treatable. That with the right diet, exercise, and a good glucose management program, you can continue to have a normal life, and that the condition will not break your family dynamic. Stress that instead of causing negative changes, the diagnosis will require your family to come together and make positive, healthy changes that will improve the lives of everyone. Get children on board with things like healthy grocery shopping, meal planning, and let them come up with an exercise routine that everyone can do together. Above all, be straightforward, direct, and honest.
Explaining Your Children’s Diagnosis to Them
We spoke a lot about dealing with your child’s diabetes earlier, so we won’t go into a huge amount of detail in this post. There are a few key takeaways, though:
Any major disruption in a child’s life will cause ripples of doubt about being normal and having a normal, healthy family. When discussing your child’s condition with them, stress that diabetes is something that happens to lots of people, and that they aren’t alone or isolated. Many communities have support groups and playdates for children with diabetes, and it can help to introduce your child to them.
Stress that any changes this new diagnosis will require will be made together by the whole family. A strong sense of belonging is important for children dealing with big life changes, and taking part in everything as a family will make them feel more at ease and relaxed.
As mentioned before, it’s important to be honest and direct. Still, it is just as important to point out that diabetes is not the end of their life. In fact, plenty of people with diabetes go on to do great things. Stress that the condition is manageable, and they can still be completely healthy and have a great life, so long as they maintain their treatment plan. Take a look at our list of celebrities with Type 1 diabetes and use them as role models and inspirations to get your child excited and upbeat about their future.