Having a family member, especially a child, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes may bring up feelings of sadness — or even guilt. But, with the right support, you can be prepared to discuss proper diabetes care with your toddler, preschooler or teen.
Talking about diabetes
When communicating about diabetes and diabetes care with kids, it's important to be honest while still having age-appropriate discussions. A child with a diabetes diagnosis may feel like they did something wrong to cause the disease. When talking to your child about diabetes, it's important to clearly establish that diabetes is not their fault, especially if your child is very young. By encouraging kids to talk openly and ask questions, parents can remove the stigma of a diabetes diagnosis and set the stage to address proper self-care. And don't forget to sit down with siblings who may worry about getting diabetes or experience jealousy at a brother or sister who is receiving extra attention.
Sending a positive message
How you approach talking about diabetes plays an important role in how your child manages the disease. Always stay positive and tell your child that they have your support when it comes to keeping diabetes under control. If your child strays from the diabetes self-care plan, avoid negative words like "bad" and "cheating." Negative reinforcement or overreacting to a high blood sugar test may cause your child to be less than honest about future readings. Alternately, educate your child about blood sugar and how diet and exercise play a role.
Set a good example for your child when it comes to limiting sugary treats and getting regular exercise. If the whole family gets involved, it will be easier for a child to properly manage their diabetes. Have discussions about diabetes with your family and emphasize that being healthy is important for everyone — not just diabetics. Including your child in meal planning and other activities will help them feel like they have an ally in diabetes management. Read some ideas for enjoying the holidays with a diabetic child.
Having age-appropriate discussions
Age-appropriate discussions are especially important for children with diabetes. Here are some tips for talking about type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes with children of all ages:
- Infants and toddlers
Infants and toddlers are too young to understand why they need to take blood sugar readings or get shots. Testing blood sugar and giving insulin as part of your child's daily routine may help. Perform diabetes care during diaper changes or at nap time, working fast but gently. Soothe your child afterward with a calm, reassuring voice.
Children in preschool are still young enough that they cannot perform diabetes care on their own. Try explaining everything you're doing as simply as possible, and give your child the opportunity to get involved by asking them where they'd like to get an insulin injection or which finger to use for a blood glucose test.
- School-age children
By the time children are in school, they should start to manage some of their own diabetes care with parental involvement or proper adult supervision while at school. As your child starts to take on proper self-care, try to provide support without being pushy.
Teenage children are at risk of making poor diabetes care decisions due to feeling invincible, the fear of being different than other children or peer pressure. Talk to your teen about how activities like substance abuse and sexuality affect diabetes and personal health. While it may feel right to lecture, try to offer support in a caring manner.
Your doctor can help you know what is appropriate at each stage. Support groups can also help your child connect with other children with diabetes to make them feel more normal. Remember, the more you have open conversations with your children about diabetes, the better prepared they will be to manage it when you're apart.