Q: My son's class is having a Valentine's Day party, his first at-school party since his diagnosis. How should we handle this? Should I attend just to monitor? I'm worried his blood sugar is going to go high.
A: When you have a newly diagnosed child who has just settled into a good routine managing his type 1 diabetes at school, a class party can feel like a major curve ball. Fortunately, adjusting for a school celebration can usually be pulled off with just a few extra steps.
First, find out more about the party. Call your child's teacher or the room parent in charge of refreshments to get an idea what kinds of snacks and beverages will be offered. Due to children's food allergies and related issues, many schools now have policies where only prepackaged foods with the ingredient list and nutritional information clearly labeled is allowed. If this is the case in your child's school, you may be able to have a fairly accurate idea how many carbohydrates will be in his treats. If you are only able to get general information, such as one cupcake and one cup of juice, it's still possible to do a little nutritional detective work to come up with an approximate carb count.
When you call, also ask what time the party will be held. This can help you make decisions about whether the party treats could be covered by your child's lunchtime insulin, whether additional insulin is needed that day, or in the case of a party at the end of the day, whether it might be okay to allow your child to have the treat and then check his blood sugar at home (and adjust insulin from there). Your diabetes educator can help walk you through what's best in your particular situation. If you do change your care routine on the day of the party, let your child's teacher and school nurse know the plan ahead of time.
All this may seem like extra work, but even attending something as simple as a class party can send a powerful message to a child newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes that he is no different from other kids his age. I get concerned when a parent says, "Well, I'll just send in a special snack for my child." Over the years, children can become resentful of this. And try to remember, even if blood sugar levels aren't quite perfect for that day, these parties aren't everyday occurrences.
If you can attend the party, it will probably help you feel much more comfortable to see the flow of what happens. Your child's teacher may also appreciate the extra reassurance of your presence -- and the extra help, especially if you volunteer to clean up!
--Julie Coffey, M.S.N., A.R.N.P., is a pediatric nurse practitioner in the division of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.
How Other Parents Deal
"When it comes to things like what to do about a class party, never feel like you're asking too many questions. Chances are your son's teacher is also wondering what's best and will be really glad to hear from you!"
--Kristen G., mom of David
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.