Q: I've noticed a definite drop off in the number of play dates and birthday parties our 6-year-old has been invited to since his diagnosis. How do we let other parents know that having type 1 diabetes doesn't mean an end to a child's social life?
A: You may know that your son is ready to get back into the normal swing of parties and play dates, but don't be surprised if other parents are still a bit hesitant. Unless they have had firsthand experience with diabetes, many parents just don't know things like what kinds of snacks a child with type 1 can eat, what activities he is able to take part in, and how to deal with blood sugar. They may also wonder if this is information they can ask you about -- or if it's considered prying or even upsetting to you.
As I've experienced and other moms have shared with me, it often takes a little maneuvering to ease a child with type 1 back onto the social scene. For starters, consider hosting a few group play dates, either at your own home or at a park, and invite both your son's friends and their parents to attend. This is an easy way for parents to see you in action as you check blood sugar, give your child a snack, and give insulin. If you're open about what you're doing, it's a golden opportunity to initiate a conversation about what type 1 is, the specifics of your son's routine, and how his type 1 needs are handled when he's in someone else's care. You can also ask parents what questions they have about diabetes. Some may still be confused about the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes; others may think that a child with type 1 is on a sugar-free diet and can't eat a slice of birthday cake. Take time to gently educate parents about these concerns.
Since your child is 6, it's not uncommon for parents to still accompany their child on play dates or to birthday parties. Be direct in letting parents know that this is something that you're willing to do. If you want to give your child more freedom, perhaps suggest meeting up for play dates at a playground, the library, or other places where you can hang out out-of-sight, yet are available if needed for blood sugar checks, snacks, and insulin. If it's a birthday party, volunteer to help out in some way (acting as the official party photographer, taking the kids outside to play, etc.) so that you're busy yet still there for your child.
As your son gets a little older and starts becoming more self-sufficient, it will become increasingly important to train other parents in type 1 basics before leaving your son in their care. If I'm dropping my daughter off for a play date, I do some advance work by going over the contents of our supply bag with the hosting parent, teaching them how to perform blood sugar checks just in case my daughter can't do her own check, and going over her care sheet, a one-page set of instructions that identify symptoms of low blood sugar, how to treat it, and what to do in case of an emergency. Most importantly, I give parents my phone number and reassure them that I'm only a phone call away for any questions they may have, no matter how small. I usually do not ask other parents to give insulin unless they already deal with diabetes on a daily basis. If there's a family your child spends a great deal of time with, you may want to train the parent in insulin administration just as you would a babysitter or other caregiver.
The bottom line for parents of kids with type 1 to remember is that just because a child has diabetes doesn't mean he can't have a social life. In the beginning you may need to invite kids to your own home or do group play dates until other parents are reassured that your child can have fun just like any other kid. And then, trust me, the day will come (probably sooner than you think) when you can't keep up with your son's social calendar.
--Leighann Calentine writes the type 1 diabetes blog D-mom.com and is the author of a book for parents of children with type 1 diabetes.
How Other Parents Deal
"I didn't realize that having a son diagnosed with type 1 diabetes would mean spending as much time as I do explaining that yes, when diabetes is managed, a slice of birthday cake and scoop of ice cream are just fine!"
--Elizabeth, mom of Eric
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.
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