Q: My daughter’s new friend has type 1 diabetes. What do I need to know to make it safe for her friend to come play at our house, and what can I do to be helpful and supportive to her friend’s parents?

A: When you think about what happens during a typical two-hour playdate — in other words, lots of running around and snacking — having a child with diabetes come over is really no different. You’ll need to be aware of how type 1 fits into the mix, but fortunately, this is something that can usually be accomplished with just a few extra steps.

For starters, what kind of food will you serve? Having type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean a child can’t have “kid foods” like ice cream or cookies, but it does require counting the carbohydrate grams in foods the child eats. If you haven’t already, call the child’s parent to discuss what kinds of foods you’ll have available. If the snack will be cheese and crackers, for example, the parent can help you read food labels to figure out how big a portion to serve and what, if anything, you’ll need to help the child do in terms of covering the carbohydrates in the snack with insulin.

During this conversation, also ask the parent about what else is good for you to know, including how to recognize the signs of low blood sugar and what to do about it. Symptoms of a low can include cold and clammy skin, jittery or nervous behavior, fast heartbeat, feeling dizzy or weak, and developing a headache. The parent can tell you how to respond when you see these signs, such as giving the child a serving of juice, cookies, candy, or other form of rapidly absorbed carbohydrates. You can ask the parent to leave you with some of these low blood sugar supplies. The parent (or child herself, depending on her age) should check the child’s blood sugars before the start of the playdate to make sure her numbers are within range.

Some of the other safety precautions you will need to take are similar to the ones you would use for any other child. Make sure you have the parent’s cell phone number in case of emergency. Provide supervision and make sure kids know that you need to be told immediately if someone is in need of help.

Reaching out to the child’s parents with the message that you’re ready and willing to do what it takes for your children to play together may be more helpful and supportive than you will ever realize. If you are comfortable with the child coming over and would like to offer babysitting or invite the child to spend the night, you may want to consider receiving more training in type 1 care, including administering insulin, as a way to provide parents with even greater peace of mind. Diabetes clinics or the child’s diabetes educator can provide more information about where to find this kind of training.

 –Awilda Valdes, R.N., C.D.E., is a diabetes nurse clinician in the division of endocrinology at Miami Children’s Hospital.

How Other Parents Deal
“I put together a little ‘playdate kit’ that we drop off with our son when he goes over to a friend’s house. It’s a plastic case that contains juice, some prepackaged crackers, snack-size candy, a list of low blood sugar and high blood sugar symptoms, instructions for how to treat a low, and our phone numbers and emergency contacts. Over the past year since his diagnosis, parents have become so accustomed to the kit that I don’t even need to really explain it anymore. It definitely makes life easier!”

–Angela B., San Jose, Calif., mom of 7-year-old Matthew

Related topics:
People in the Know: Getting Back on the Play-Date Circuit
People in the Know: Talking With Friends’ Parents

See more People in the Know questions and answers >

Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.