Explaining Illness to Your Preschooler


Last night as I was busily typing on the computer, my daughter wandered into my office. In her “I want to ask you something but you will say no” voice, she said, “Mom?”

“Yes, dear.”



“I have diabetes.”

Well no, she doesn’t have diabetes. I have diabetes, and I wear an insulin pump, count carbohydrates, and all of that fun stuff. She watches me use my pump, change my pump sites, insert big needles into various parts of my anatomy. Sometimes I poke her finger to check and see if her blood sugar is all right, and once a year she goes to the hospital to do a blood test for autoimmune antibodies that might indicate that she is going to develop diabetes.

Now, diabetes is a serious disease, and I certainly don’t want to minimize it. However, I also don’t want to terrify my child. We’re at that age when she’s thinking a lot about death and getting worried about all sorts of things. Recently, the father of someone we know died. She knows that parents and kids can die or get very sick.

So last night, after we tested her blood sugar and confirmed that it was indeed just fine, we had a little talk. I talked to her about when I was pregnant and got sick and found out that I had diabetes and how worried I was about her before she was born. We talked about how sometimes your immune system gets confused and decides to get rid of a part of your body that you actually need. We talked about how food gives you energy and how I need to use my pump to give me insulin so I can use that energy. We talked about how her daddy doesn’t have diabetes and she might not get it either.

But it is hard, because my body doesn’t work quite right, and sometimes she notices. And now she worries that her body might not work quite right either. I’m trying to be as practical as possible about the situation, but I do dread a day when her tests might come back positive. A parent can’t guarantee a child’s good health or long life, just hope for good health. I hope that now and in the future, I can be practical, calm and informative. If she does get diabetes, I hope that she can get through the initial sadness and learn to accept it as an illness that is hard but part of life.

Have you talked to your child about illness and disability?