Sweet Talk

Explaining diabetes to kids loaded with teachable moments.

Melissa Conrad StopplerBy Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D.

Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

April 2007 —"Can I have some of your diabetes, Mom?"

My preschool son misunderstood this time. I was trying to let him know that no, those sugar tablets aren't there because I like candy, they're in my purse because Mommy has diabetes and might need them in a hurry. And the tablets themselves aren't the diabetes; they're something I need for a disease called diabetes. OK, he reasoned, I'll try living with diabetes too, if it means you get to take candy with you everywhere.

With my school-aged kids I've been able to be a bit more forthcoming with information about living with diabetes. They don't see me as "sick," so they constantly question my need for all the pills and shots. "Say ouch," my daughter commands every time I stick myself. "Why don't you ever say ouch?"

A number of teaching opportunities have arisen as a result of my having diabetes. So, I figured, why not use this as a learning experience for them. I tried my best to explain things in terms they'd understand. I have found that for children in the young elementary age groups, certain explanations seemed to work better than others:

• Yes, I do feel fine, but I have a condition that could make me sick one day if I don't take care of myself.

• The condition is called diabetes, and this is a disease that affects the way your body reacts after eating certain foods, like sugar.

• The shots and pills are drugs that can help my body manage the foods I have eaten and can also help prevent the diabetes from making me sick.

• By taking good care of myself, such as by eating properly and exercising, I can help prevent myself from becoming sick from the diabetes.

• The steps that I'm trying to take for my health and to help keep getting sick from the diabetes aren't all that different from the steps anyone – including children – should take to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

• We can all do things together, like exercising and eating nutritious foods that can help me to stay well and can make you strong and healthy.

Because my children associate the idea of diabetes with food consumption, they've all taken an interest in defining foods as healthy or unhealthy. So this led to yet another great teaching opportunity. Originally, however, they tended toward a black-and-white categorization system. Either a food is good, or it must be bad for you. This provided a natural introduction to the topics of moderation, portion control, and the concept of a balanced diet. Together with them I listed examples of foods that are OK to eat a lot of as well as those "treat" foods that we eat only rarely or in small amounts.

So I get lots of help, encouragement, and support at home from the kids. I can't imagine a stronger motivator.

Read more of Melissa's columns here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: July 15, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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