Princess – by Helen May

I recently stayed with some friends who are regularly visited by their two and a half year old grand daughter. Not surprisingly, there is a certain amount of mutual adoration in the air when she is around: Princess (and I don’t mean that ironically – she is a gorgeous, pretty, clever, little princess) is the centre of attention all the time and if she falls over or knocks her knee, she runs to granny or grandad for a cuddle.

She is at that curious age where bags, boxes, etc are to be looked into and emptied. There’s nothing better than a handbag to go rummaging in and, I must admit, I am intrigued by the huge keyrings that come out of some bags. So when my friend innocently mentioned Princess was looking through my little handbag I left on the bed, I should not have been surprised. However, my little handbag did not contain keys and purse: it contained my diabetes kit. Internally, I had a little panic when I thoughts about Princess pricking herself or breaking one of my insulin vials. Hopefully, I was reasonable calm externally when I suggested that was not a good idea as it contained needles.

My friends know I have diabetes. I don’t hide it so I often leave my little handbag on the bench in the kitchen or coffee table in the living room. But suddenly, I have to think about where it is and keep it out of reach (and sight) of little prying fingers. Or do I?

As I do not live with children, this is not something I have had to consider with my diabetes. But as I thought about it more, I realised Princess is growing up and I continue to visit her grandparents. So I will have to consider more than keeping my needles out of her way. I will have to explain what is in the bag and why I need it.

I may be able to avoid the conversation by always injecting out of sight but that is not what I do. I think I’ve mentioned before, I don’t inject publicly but I don’t hide when I inject: I do it in public: and I believe it is a chance for Princess to learn what is happening.

I could leave it for her parents or grandparents to explain but not only does that seem a cowardly way out, I know more about diabetes and I don’t want he to be misinformed at a young age. Some friends ask lots of questions about diabetes and some just let me get on with it. I have no preference either way. These friends are of the latter type.

How do I explain it to he in a way that is serious but not scary? In a way that she learns my injections are important for my health but that diabetes (yes, you’ve read it here before) doesn’t stop me doing what I want in life? And in a way that she will understand when she sees someone else injecting but not expect to be doing it for herself?

I can’t start to imagine how difficult it is to explain to a child when they get diabetes. Thankfully, I do not have to do that. But I would like to know how I can explain diabetes to a three year old if she asks next time I see her. Suggestions, please?

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Thank you to everyone for their great responses and ideas. next time I see pricesses, I will not be shying away from injecting in front of her and I will be ready with some answers.
I won’t be buying her a book or video but perhaps she will be getting a doctors kit for her next birthday.
With much appreciation,

My kids have grown up with diabetes, with both myself and their grandfather being type1 . We have always been honest with their curiosity and have never hidden anything from them or made a big deal of it, just made it a fact of life. I also get 1st dibs on all the biscuits! They are now 19 & 21.

Get a book like the combi one from accuchek. Like everyone has said, just talk to her normally. Kids understand more than you realise and are very accepting. My 2 year old spots hypo’s, helps with bloodtests and now, like a mini mum, checks that I have my jelly babies before we leave the house. Have fun :-)

Hi, I had to explain type 1 diabetes to my son when he was 3 because that’s when he was diagnosed. He knew already that you had organs in your body, like a heart and brain, so I told him that inside his tummy there was an organ called a pancreas and it was poorly. The doctors couldn’t make the pancreas better so the insulin injections are medicine to keep him well.
We’ve also had discussions about the immune system, I described it as little soldiers fighting off all the nasty bugs. But the soldiers got mixed up and think his pancreas is a bady when it isn’t.
Obviously these conversations were over lots of week because his tends to take on one piece of info at a time and mull it over for a few days :) good luck x

When my son was diagnosed last year (age 6) we were giving a fabulous little book called Diabetes Made Simple – it was provided in my son’s pack of goodies from JDRF. It explained diabetes in a language appropriate to primary school children – and is nice and colourful with fun characters to keep younger minds interested. My daughter, who is older, took the book into school and educated the entire school :)

The book talks about the lock and key analogy, which the diabetes team also use – i.e. the insulin is the key that unlocks the cells to allow the sugar in.

I have been astounded how much my son has understood about his diabetes. He sometimes appears to struggle to remember his name, but when it comes to diabetes he is spot on. He knows what is happening in his body, why he needs injections, what the different insulins do, etc. So never underestimate the understanding of kids – they don’t even have to appear to be listening half the time but the information is seeping in.

Good luck!


I would try to be less dramatic in my response – you don’t need to say much to satisfy a child’s curiousity. I would just say ‘I need help to stay healthy’. If discouraging her from playing with your pens, just say ‘but you are healthy so you don’t need it’.

I grew up with my dad injecting (using the old hypodermic needles!) and I don’t remember asking about his injections but I must have at some point. When I was diagnosed aged 12, the last thing I was worried about was the injections – I just knew I needed them – and it really helped to have that understanding.

Basically, I wouldn’t worry too much what you say!

Tell it exactly like it is. You can use all the big words like Pancreas, Insulin, Diabetes, as long as there is a brief explanation of each. Children take most things at face value, and will not find it scary if you explain it without adding any drama. Your pancreas is a part of your body that helps you turn Food into energy. It does this by squirting stuff called insulin into your body. I have diabetes, so my pancreas doesn’t make any insulin. I have to squirt it into my body myself when I eat food. She will probably be fascinated to see you do it, and the more open you are about allowing this, the more normal it will seem to her.

My diabetes and my daughter arrived at the same time 2 years ago (diagnosed T1 when she was a week overdue – an interesting week to say the least!) . She knows that I need to take my medicine when I eat and do the ‘beep’ with my meter . She sometimes will help me by holding the lid of the insulin pen while I inject or pressing the button on the meter. We decided that we’d be as open about it as possible with her from day one – so that its just something normal that happens every day. We never say anything to make her think that I’m sick in any way (after all I’m not – its just a condition). So for her its just something very normal and part of everyday life. Because its still quite new for me too its almost like she’s learning that as I do – which is nice. I also try to make having a healthy lifestyle normal for her too – she loves seeing me go running and will always do stretches with me when I get back. Trying to get her to eat her vegetables with me is a different challenge though :)

I have said that I take special medicine to keep me healthy. My 3 yr old knows that I test before meals, and ‘helps’ with my pump and sugar tests. She understands that it’s completely normal, and that there are bits she can’t touch because they’re spikey. She asked whether it hurts & is happy that it doesn’t. We’re super keen on her not seeing me as sick or poorly, but part of normal. She even asks if I need to eat if I act strange.

I tell my daughter (3) that my machine helps to stop me being poorly, she seems to get it. I involve her as much as I can. she gives us all injections in our stomachs with her pretend doctor set. I let her help with set changes. she loves it, especially the skin tac wipes when her hands stick to everything just like spiderman!

Since I was diagnosed at 11, my kids have always know that I have type 1 diabetes: dad injecting himself is not an issue, and neither is it an issue to hand dad a biscuit when he’s starting to talk slowly and erratically. Your question is different, of course.

Like you, I inject in public discreetly. It may sound odd from someone who has self injected 45,000 times, but I have an aversion to seeing other people injected, and so I recognise that others don’t want to see me do it. On the other hand, I don’t go to the toilets to inject, that is drawing attention to myself. Injecting under the table when the conversation moves to someone else, or when the food arrives, is discreet and no one notices. If someone asks then I am happy to explain.

Your question is how to explain diabetes to a young child. Every day children see medical devices, or devices that help people live their lives more completely. Children are observant and although they may not understand, they will notice.

“This pen? Well, you know grandma needs the mobility scooter because her legs are weak and she needs the scooter to get to the shops? You know that grandad needs glasses to read because his eyes are weak? Well, I need this because part of my body does not work well and I need it whenever I need to eat. Grandad cannot see without his glasses, and I cannot eat without this pen. It’s important to me and if I lose it I cannot eat, so I get very worried, more worried than grandpa is when he cannot find his glasses.”

Hi Helen.

I explain it to my daughter (3 next month) that “daddy is a bit poorly and has to have some medicine”. She seems to understand that concept and knows what my pen (and now pump) is for. She’s also OK with that fact that I have to go to the hospital and sometimes have to eat something “because of my diabetes” (e.g. a hypo).

When she’s playing she’ll often try and give me medicine in my stomach or rub her tummy to ease a pretend headache.

It’s little steps but I think it helps her understand.