How to Help Your Children Understand Your Life with Diabetes
Last updated: March 2022
One of the hardest things about living with a chronic illness like diabetes is knowing that it doesn’t just affect me. It affects the people around me—especially family. And when you have young children that can be heartbreaking.
My daughters were in elementary school when I was diagnosed. It was their first experience of being around someone with a chronic illness. And knowing that it was their mother who was sick stirred emotions.
Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. You have young children or grandchildren who are seeing you deal with your diabetes and wondering what it all means.
How to help children understand life with type 2 diabetes
Here are a few things you can do to help them understand what you’re going through and even how they can help.
Be honest, don’t hide
The first thing is to be honest. Don’t deny that you have diabetes.
Diabetes will change your and your family’s life. Your children will notice the change and wonder what’s going on.
I’m not saying you have to share every detail. But be honest.
You’re living with a chronic illness. It won’t go away. It might get better. It might get worse. You have to make some changes so that you can take care of yourself. Your children will be curious about it.
Children can tell when they aren’t being told the truth and nature abhors a vacuum. So if you leave it up to the child to figure out what’s going on with your health who knows what they’ll come up with. It could be something much more worrying, like the idea that what you have is going to kill you.
Also when children are left in the dark they lose any opportunity to feel like they can help. What kind of help can a child offer? How about a comforting hug or an encouraging word?
Use clear and age-appropriate language
Don’t use euphemisms. You are living with diabetes. You don’t have “the sugars.”
Use age-appropriate language and don’t be surprised how quickly young children and grandchildren can learn. Hypoglycemic might be a mouthful for a young child, but they can say and understand the phrase “low blood sugar.”
Not only does clear language make it easier for children to understand, but it also makes it possible for them to communicate what they see going on with you.
We’ve heard the stories of a child who saves someone’s life by calling 9-1-1 in an emergency. This is only possible when the child can communicate the health emergency clearly. Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself is such a serious situation. Remember a child can still help by calling over other adults to help when needed and it's not an emergency.
The other thing children can communicate when they have the language is their fears and concerns. Being able to recognize and express their feelings is important for children’s emotional and social development.
Answer questions and listen to their fears
While you can’t promise that everything will be okay, you can let your children know that diabetes is not a death sentence and bad things aren’t inevitable.
Answering their questions will help your children understand and help calm any fears or anxieties they have about your health and what might happen to them because of it.
Listening to their fears will help you understand what your children are worried about. It gives you the chance to find ways to let your children know how you’re taking care of yourself and what they might be able to help with.
Look for other examples of life with diabetes to share
It’s helpful for children to understand that there isn’t just one way to live with diabetes.
Do you know other people who are living with diabetes? Friends? Neighbors? Family members?
Have you seen characters on television or in movies who have diabetes? Or read about them in storybooks?
All of these different examples can be models for your children, helping them understand that there isn’t one, perfect way to live with diabetes.
Seeing how different people take care of themselves and live with diabetes helps children develop empathy and move away from judgement. They will begin to understand that life with diabetes can be hard and there’s more than one way to manage your health.
Don’t try to be perfect
It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to be human. You don’t have to be perfect in front of your children or grandchildren—or anyone else, for that matter.
There will still be times that you won’t have the energy to be understanding. You might find yourself yelling at your kids. Or being too tired to answer the same questions over and over again. Or you might need to focus taking care of yourself right this minute.
You’re still mom, or dad, or grandma, or grandpa. And that’s what matters most.
How often do you find yourself craving sweet snacks?