Clamoring children, happy chaos, hours of over-the-top excitement, and an overload of straight-sugar goodies — and there, in the middle of it all, is your blissfully distracted child, perhaps in the care of adults you may not know very well.
A birthday bash can seem like a perilous tightrope walk for the parents of a child with type 1 diabetes. And as always, it’s important to work with your healthcare team regarding insulin adjustments for food and activity. But know now that it’s a situation that you can become well-equipped to handle. Birthday parties or classroom parties just involve more of the same good planning you’re already doing, plus a few creative ideas.
When Your Child Is a Guest
- First and foremost, do have your child attend the party if at all possible. “Particularly for younger children, when you start to limit and restrict, it sends a message that they’re not going to have the same opportunities,” says Martha Upchurch, R.D., a pediatric diabetes educator at the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic in Nashville.
- Communicate with party hosts. Call a couple of weeks in advance, reassure the host parents that you and your child have a party plan in place, and that you’re only a phone call or text away—and be sure to leave your contact information with the host. For better blood sugar control, find out what food will be served and when. Let them know that you may have fed your child before the party, or may be sending items along with him, as part of how you normally handle parties. Feel free to offer to bring treats, too, such as sugar-free gelatin.
- You may want to send her with alternate goodies, too. “At parties there’s not always a sugar-free beverage, and that could be a big source of carbohydrates when you’re not wanting it. Think about packing sugar-free drink mix packets or flavored water mix in your child’s supply bag,” Upchurch says.
When Your Child Is the Guest of Honor
- Think outside the box when it comes to serving food. “It’s our own bias that kids need all the fattening, high-sugar stuff. There’s nothing wrong with serving fresh vegetables or a fruit platter. Things that kids can pick up with their hands, they’re going to love,” says Robyn Webb, nutritionist, cookbook author and Healthy Eating columnist for the ADA’s Diabetes Forecast magazine. “Also, you can train a kid early on that parties are meant to be fun, and are not just about food.”
- Consider having an event that involves physical activity. A dance class, soccer or games at an indoor sports venue, ice skating or bowling are just a few popular options. “Kids can have cake after they’ve lowered their blood sugar, or they can have the cake and then exercise. It’s a great equalizer,” says Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 40 years. Also remember, a change in physical activity can affect your child’s blood sugar and you may need to check more often.
- Work with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year to plan a procedure for class parties. If a parent brings goodies, he or she can figure out in advance what will be served and let you know. When it’s your turn to bring treats, consider mini-muffins, crackers and cheese, and small water bottles in place of juice. Snacks and cookies in single calorie-controlled portion bags can also make carbohydrate control easier, and they’re easy and fun to boot.
- Emphasize that everyone wins with a more controlled approach to eating. “You’re most successful when it’s a family-wide or a classroom-wide approach,” Upchurch says. “Those are healthy suggestions, and are not just appropriate for someone with diabetes, they’re appropriate for everyone.”
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.