Lessons in telling children about diabetes – Sarah McDermott

It’s not every day you’re standing on the hall stage in front of 200 primary school children from 5 to 13 telling them about how their school has helped their friends with diabetes.

I’m usually working behind the scenes at Diabetes UK – making sure our events run smoothly from our annual conference to our Type 1 events for young people and families. So I’m much more behind the curtain! But when I heard our team that look after the Care in School Awards were looking for a volunteer to present Olney Middle school in Milton Keynes my hand shot up.

I first got interested in the great work they’re doing to help schools improve the care for children with diabetes after helping the Care in School team with their awards event at BAFTA for young people who had made films about diabetes 

In another life and country I did a few presentations to school groups and young people. I used to work on events like our Type 1 events but in Australia for disadvantaged kids and so used to go to schools and invite kids to come along. The events were a little different, and I’d be talking about all the cool activities we would be doing and going to the beach a lot!  However I was long out of practice and pretty nervous. What if I didn’t know the answer to all of their questions? What if I was boring? What if they all kept talking through my presentation? What if I was really really boring???

Thalie Martini, who looks after the team gave me some training – going through the various PowerPoint presentations they’ve set up for schools – (one for primary and one for secondary age kids – they’re on this page under school presentations) and answering all of my questions. She was great, and with her training I felt much less nervous. The presentations are geared to the different ages, so they aren’t boring at all.

Then the day arrived. First thing I noticed was how small child-sized chairs are. And the counter for the reception desk was at my knees! So I sat in the reception chair with my knees around my ears, and waited for Mrs Norton. Mrs Norton (she did say her first name; but in a school, grown-ups are always Mrs so-and-so or Mr whats-it and I am most definitely not a grownup) explained that though the child with diabetes had left, the school still wanted to acknowledge their achievement and the hard work both staff and kids had done. They were especially proud of their kitchen staff who came up to shake my hand, telling me about the raggedy copy of Carbs and Cals (Diabetes UK has a similar carbs and cals guide) they had used religiously during school dinners and measured everything to perfection!

I went through the presentation with the children, enjoying the video Dylicia made about Type 1 diabetes for the Make the Grade film competition  (on YouTube) just as much as the kids! They had a few questions, and we established a few key truths:

  • Diabetes is not catching, nor is because people eat all of their Easter chocolate in one go.
  • You can’t die from diabetes, and while there are complications that can be bad, it doesn’t mean you’re going to lose your fingers and toes.

I found this diabetes myths guide on our website really helpful.

The kids were really enthusiastic and so ready to learn! I was incredibly proud of the programme and to be able to present their award.

Things I learned from my first presentation:

  • There is always one kid that will shout out the answer to your question before you get to choose a child whose hand was up
  • Don’t rush through the information, enjoy the chance to chat with the kids and answer their questions
  • You may be cool, and awards are fun; but you will never be cooler than next week’s pancake flipping competition
Me (far left) with the people who helped the child with diabetes at Olney Middle School (including Mrs Norton second from right) and the kitchen staff who did some amazing carb counting

More information
Diabetes care in schools guide for parents and teachers
Films made by 11 to 17-year olds on Type 1 and school
Support our Safe Care in Schools campaign – and sign the petition
Guide to Your child and diabetes.
For children and young people – My Life – info, support and fun stuff.





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