When you have a child with type 1 diabetes, Halloween can be a scary holiday in more ways than one. After all, you don't want your child to overdose on sugary candy and jeopardize his or her health -- but you don't want your kid to feel left out, either. What's a mom to do? We spoke with five parents to get their top tips, then asked certified diabetes educators to chime in with advice of their own. Follow these simple pointers for a frightfully fun October 31!
1. Trick or Treat!
"My 5-year-old son, Ian, loves trick-or-treating, but I know he shouldn't have all that candy. So I allow him to go ahead and collect candy throughout the neighborhood, and then we go through it together as he picks out five pieces that he can eat over five days -- with me factoring in the carb counts, of course. Then we set the bag of candy by his bed and tell him the 'Switch Witch' is coming that night to switch out his candy for a toy. He loves his new toy, and I love knowing he won't be tempted by sweets he shouldn't be eating in the first place."
--Barbara, Oklahoma City, Okla.
The expert says: "For children who enjoy the excitement of being little foot soldiers and marching from house to house, let them go trick-or-treating," reiterates Constance Brown-Riggs, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. "However, be sure they have basic training first -- this is where parents set the rules as to how much candy they can consume. Get a list of the carbohydrate counts for the child's favorite Halloween candy, then the candy can easily be incorporated into the child's meal plan. An exchange system, like Barbara uses, is another great strategy. Depending on the child's preference, candy can be exchanged for money, a toy, or a movie. That way both the parent and the child are happy."
2. Don't Be a Class Party Pooper
"When my daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 8, I was tempted to just pull her out of school on Halloween and skip her class party altogether. But then I realized that would only punish her, and she didn't deserve that. There is no reason a boy or girl with type 1 should be deprived of a party. As long as you talk to the teacher in advance, your child can enjoy school Halloween events just as much as any other kid!"
--Sarah, Dallas, Texas
The expert says: "Work with the teacher prior to the class party to help ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding your child's needs," says Gavin Pritchard, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. "Consider floating the idea of the Halloween party not only as a time for fun, but as a great time to include discussion on nutrition, exercise, and good health, which can be productive for all the students. Planning various Halloween-themed activities and games can be another fun way to celebrate without emphasizing just food. Talk with your child prior to the party about the agreed-upon strategy for managing any treats involved. Sending alternative Halloween treats to school -- maybe something that a parent and child make or pick out together -- can also ensure that the child has some options to choose from at the party."
3. Consider Candy Alternatives
"We have a lot of trick-or-treaters come to the house, but we don't give out candy. Instead, we pass out trinkets or little toys. That way, my 10-year-old son with type 1 diabetes won't be tempted to sneak the candy when we're not looking -- and my husband and I won't be tempted to eat junk food either. It's a win-win for the whole family!"
--Joanna, Tujunga, Calif.
The expert says: "During the Halloween season when most people are buying those large bags of candy, I head to the party goods store," says registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Christina DiLoreto. "Given my line of work, I try to do my part to reduce candy intake. I opt for little games, like the kinds you get in carnival grab bags -- a maze that you have to get through with a little ball or something with jokes instead of sweets."
4. Reshape Your Rituals
"I've tried to create new Halloween traditions for my two kids ever since my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 7. On Halloween night, we dress up in costume and go out to a nice -- but sensible -- dinner at the restaurant of their choice. Then we go to the mall, and I give them each $20 to spend on whatever they like. It's a fun thing for them and creates a lot less stress for me."
--Robyn, Jersey City, N.J.
The expert says: "I love the idea of starting a Halloween tradition that doesn't revolve around trick-or-treating," says DiLoreto. "Instead of collecting candy door to door, plan a fun activity with family and friends. Perhaps it's transforming your yard into a scary maze or going to a haunted house. There are often seasonal movies released at this time of year, so you could arrange a movie outing for your children and their friends. An activity can help play down the candy and play up the fun."
5. Plan Ahead
"Before a holiday like Halloween, which can create a lot of anxiety for me and my 9-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes, we see her doctor and dietitian and come up with a plan for how to approach the holiday. That way, we can go over the plan several times beforehand and breeze into the event knowing we're fully prepared."
--Ashli, Bentonville, Ark.
The expert says: "Working with your child's care team and even members of your child's extended contact group -- such as neighbors, teachers, and family friends -- can help ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the family's strategy for managing Halloween," says Pritchard. "Work with your child's physician and registered dietitian to facilitate modifications in your child's nutrition plan if necessary. Have a proactive and positive discussion ahead of time with your child, and collectively set limits on the amount of allowable treats per day. Take inventory of candy collected with your child, and stick to the amounts and times mutually agreed upon prior to the day's events."
Approaching Halloween when you have a child with type 1 diabetes can certainly seem challenging, but a bit of teamwork and solid planning can help make it safe, manageable, and memorable!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.