When Kaitlyn was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she was barely 3 years old. The following year was full of “firsts.” The first Christmas with diabetes, first year at preschool with diabetes, first Valentine’s, first Fourth of July, our first summer vacations, our first camping trips, and of course her first Halloween with diabetes. Every major holiday or event was a new experience, because we were learning how to do our usual celebrations in a new way. We tried to keep the traditions and all the fun, but the way we handled things for Kaitlyn was different.
Halloween is coming up again, and I had to pause and reflect on that first stressful Halloween and how things have changed over the years.
For our first Halloween with diabetes, Kaitlyn was dressed as a pink cartoon bear. She was at the age where she understood what trick-or-treating was, and wow, was she excited about it! We showed up at my brother and sister-in-law’s house so that we could have our traditional pre-Halloween meal of chili and corn bread and have full bellies before the highly anticipated candy fest. We checked and dosed for Kaitlyn’s meal as usual and then set out around the neighborhood with all the cousins to collect candy. I still remember how excited they were, and that they all wanted to see how much candy they could pick up before the night was over. Kaitlyn could hardly contain herself!
When we returned back to the house, all the kids immediately claimed their space on the carpet and dumped out their bags of candy to examine their treasure! They counted, organized, and traded with their cousins, and before we knew it, they were eating their treats faster than we could clean up the trail of wrappers. And, of course, Kaitlyn wanted to eat her candy too! We checked her blood sugar, and because of the good hearty meal we’d had a couple hours before, her blood sugar was a little on the high side.
It would have been better for her numbers not to have the candy, or at least to bolus for the candy 20 minutes before she wanted to eat it. But as you can imagine, telling a 4-year-old to wait to eat a piece of candy — when there was literally candy spread out all over the room and in every one of her cousins’ mouths — was pretty impossible. And how were we even going to attempt to count carbs? Most carb counts aren’t on the individual candies passed out, and we didn’t even think of weighing and measuring. Halloween felt like a type 1 diabetes nightmare in that moment! My husband and I looked at each other, and we just kind of said, “Oh, well!” We did our best and checked blood sugar and bolused, and checked and bolused, and checked and bolused again, but we knew it was going to be a long night.
Fast-forward 12 years, and our Halloweens are very different now. Kaitlyn is so much more mature and understanding, candy is not as much of a temptation for her, and the tools we have to manage blood sugar are so much better. (What I would have given for a continuous glucose monitor on that first Halloween!) Also, she doesn’t really go out trick-or-treating anymore, but instead is one of the helpers passing out candy, or she spends the evening with friends watching a scary movie. Of course, there’s still a ton of candy involved, but she might have a piece or two and then carefully pack away her share to save in the cupboard for when she needs fast-acting sugar to treat a low.
No matter how we look at it, Halloween is challenging for small kids with type 1. But as parents and kids gain more experience and more confidence, it isn’t all that difficult to manage. In many ways, Halloween requires about the same planning as a weekend with friends or any other holiday. The trick is to keep trying, and the treat is the shared experience of getting better and better at taking care of our sweet kids.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.