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Explaining Diabetes to Children

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Explaining diabetes to children can seem like a daunting task, but in reality it is no more difficult than discussing anything else important.

Whether a loved one or the child is living with diabetes, this can be an easy conversation as long as you are correctly prepared to both ease the child’s concerns and shape the information he or she is given.

Five Tips for Explaining Diabetes to a Child

  1. Know what you’re talking about. Any parent who has gone a few rounds with a child asking “Why?” over and over again knows that we can quickly reach the limits of our understanding. So before explaining diabetes to a child, it is important that you are certain of your facts. Talk to doctors and others who live with the disease.
  2. Make sure you tell the child only what he or she needs to know and can understand. Explaining diabetes to a 3-year-old would be much different than explaining the disease to a teenager. While your knowledge should be extensive, it is important to not over-explain things to kids lest you either confuse or frighten them. Essentially, the younger the child, the simpler the explanation should be.
  3. Be ready to intercept his or her fears. If a very young child has type 1 diabetes, he or she will essentially only understand two things: He or she can’t have sweets and has to get a shot every day. One way to allay those concerns would be to ensure that the child does get some kind of treat as well. After the shot, perhaps he or she can watch a favorite film or do a fun activity. This will all depend on your particular child and the particular situation, but it will ultimately boil down to this: I’m okay, you’re okay, and things are going to be fine.
  4. Have a solid explanation ready. There is a fine line between over-informing and condescending where kids are concerned. Have an explanation for the more difficult concepts ready, especially for the very young. Comparing glucose to fuel for a car is a simple metaphor and a great place to start. Let their questions determine how much you get into actual specifics.
  5. Be prepared for it not to be a big deal. Children are remarkable in their resilience, sometimes even processing troubling news more effectively than adults. While you may feel like you have prepared for the biggest school project of your life, your child may surprise you by simply replying: “Cool. Got it. Can I go to the mall?” It’s okay to ask a few questions to ensure that he or she really does understand, but once that’s done simply leave it alone.

Kids, especially older ones, will do their own research. Just be ready to answer the odd questions and provide gentle reminders when things slip your child’s mind.

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