8 Tips for Explaining Diabetes to a Newly Diagnosed Child

Diabetes is a difficult topic for children (and even adults) to grasp. If you have a child who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you probably know how hard it can be to get them to understand the gravity of the situation and to comply with doctors’ orders. A better understanding of the disease, however, should help with this issue. So we turned to Reddit, where lots of people with diabetes and parents with diabetic children were happy to give us some tips on how best to explain diabetes to a newly diagnosed child!

NOTE: Some comments have been edited for length, grammar, or profanity.

1. Tell them yourself.

“In my opinion, it’s best that your parents tell you about it, rather than a nurse or doctor. Make clear that you have to keep taking these drugs, but it’s not the end of the line. The cure will be coming at some point. The most important thing is to keep your body in good shape! And it’s not false hope.” —Reddit user Xanethel

Parents giving smartphone to kid with warning

2. Don’t tell them they can eat whatever they want.

“One thing I remember is hearing from SO many people—doctors, nurses, educators—is that having an insulin pump ‘lets me eat like I am not diabetic.’ It took me probably 10 years of managing see-saw numbers to finally realize this was AWFUL advice. I think it is important to be kind and gentle but to also be honest. Diabetics will have to be aware of everything they eat for the rest of their life, and I think if this understanding and value was driven in me from diagnosis, my diabetes would have been in far better control.” —Reddit user outdatedglobe

Adorable little girl eating candy-floss outdoors

3. Find a good metaphor.

“I really like my example. Sugar and insulin is kind of like a game of catch, where cells needs to catch insulin. For T1, it’s like you don’t have have any balls to throw. For T2, it’s like they can’t catch, but the end is the same.” —Reddit user goodsam1

Father and Son Playing Catch Throwing Football

4. Find another good metaphor if the first one isn’t sinking in.

“When I was diagnosed, it was explained in a kind of weird but helpful way. Basically your body burns up sugar for energy, kind of like gasoline in a car. Your stomach breaks all of the carbohydrates you eat into individual pieces of glucose for your body to burn up and use. In order to use up the glucose molecules, they need to be allowed into your cells. Cells kind of have a locked door that makes it so the sugar molecules get in, and the key to unlock the door is a hormone called insulin. When your body doesn’t have insulin, your body still needs energy somehow, so it turns to burning fat cells. This is inefficient and leaves behind ketones and makes you feel bad.” —Reddit user Cuddlebear1018

open door silver new keys

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5. Keep it simple but accurate.

“I was 7 when I was diagnosed and was absolutely terrified, as the doctors never really told me anything useful. I would tell the child that part of their body needs medicine to work. The injections are the medicine. If they inquire further, you can go into more detail. As the child becomes more familiar with diabetes and the experts get involved, things will sort themselves out.” —Reddit user asorba

Mother and Daughter

6. Find people your child can share this experience with.

“If you can, send your child to a diabetes camp when (s)he’s older. I went to Camp Clara Barton in MA for a few summers. It was good to be around other young diabetics, and it helped me transition from my mom caring for me to me handling my own injections, etc.” —Reddit user nixiedust

group of happy kids roasting marshmallows on campfire

7. Talk to the people who regularly interact with your child.

“One of the best things I feel that helped when my daughter was diagnosed was a letter I typed up and printed multiple copies of to hand out to friends and family as they learned about the diagnosis. It also helped to let the loved ones who were concerned understand that we all needed time to cope with the adjustment as well as reassure them that the disease is manageable, insurance is great (if you have it), and love and support can make a world of difference.” —Reddit user Think4it

Girlfriends Enjoy A Conversation

8. Be your child’s advocate.

“Your child will be good, but more than ever, you need to be there for them, and that means you make sure to not forget to take care of yourself. Mentally, emotionally, physically. And do not be afraid to push doctors, nurses, teachers, anyone. YOU are the advocate. In the end, all of us ‘caretakers’ end up being pseudo-specialists.” —Reddit user deanmass

Pediatrician doctor examining child

Parents usually know best, so trust your instincts and do what you think will work for your child. We hope these tips have given you some ideas about how to inform your kiddo about their diagnosis without scaring them or lying to them. Diabetes is a touchy subject and can be frightening for a child, but we know you’ll give them all the love and support they need to learn to maintain their health and lead long happy lives!

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