Explaining Diabetes to Kindergardeners

Mary Kate Cary Health Guide
  • When Annie was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she was in kindergarden. We found ourselves in the middle of our own crash course in diabetes, and we faced the challenge of explaining the disease--and all that comes with it--to a classroom full of five-year-olds. Here's what we said to Annie's kindergarden class when she was diagnosed:

    Each of us has a chemical inside our bodies called insulin. Our bodies make insulin so that we can turn the food we eat into energy. Annie's body made a mistake the other day, and it thought that the insulin was a germ. So it attacked all the insulin, just like it would when you get sick and it attacks the germ so you can get better. So now Annie's body doesn't make any insulin, and we have to give it to her in a shot. This called having diabetes. Some of you may know other people with diabetes. (There were a lot of hands up at this point, mostly to tell us about grandparents and other adults.)
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    You may see Annie getting shots at school. These shots are to keep Annie healthy. The insulin we give her is not medicine, because Annie is not sick. It's just insulin to keep her healthy, like you kids. She'll also have a machine we call a blood checker, to check her blood so we know how much insulin to give her. It looks like a little pager or beeper like adults have. She'll also wear a bracelet that says she has diabetes, in case a grownup needs to know. (Later, some kids thought that the bracelet monitored the diabetes and would tell if it went away. They'd run up to her on the playground, say, "Do you still have it?" and check her bracelet. It would say, "Diabetes" and they'd say, "Oh. You still have it." Kind of like a medical Magic 8 ball.)

    Sometimes Annie might need a snack or a juicebox, and sometimes it might be at times when the rest of you are not having a snack. This is because she might feel "shaky" because of her diabetes. You need to let Annie have her whole snack, because it helps her feel better. If you hear Annie say she feels shaky, or she looks really sleepy, you should tell the teacher or any other adult.

    Annie is the same person as she was before diabetes. She can eat the same foods as before, she can do anything you guys do. She didn't do anything to get diabetes. She didn't "catch" diabetes, because it's not a germ you can catch. It was just a mistake her body made. I think that's about it. Does anybody have any questions?

    I remember the first three questions were:

    Is it contagious?
    Can we catch it? (From the rest of the class who didn't know what "contagious" means)
    Can we hug Annie? (This where I lost it)

    Later, there was an issue with the younger kids (pre-kindergarten) who saw Annie having a snack in the carpool line every afternoon. They wanted some of her food and told her that she was breaking the rules by not sharing. She was very upset at this, because the school teaches sharing at every turn and she thought she was being a bad person. We told her to say, "I'm sorry, my doctor says I'm not allowed to share my snack."
Published On: September 10, 2005