You know that your kids can’t be glued to your hip every second of the day. But after a type 1 diagnosis, it can feel especially scary to let them out of your sight — even more so overnight. While it’s true that sleepovers and other independent adventures require a little extra planning, there’s no reason children with diabetes have to miss out on these rites of passage. We spoke to certified diabetes educators, therapists and parents for their top tips to help you feel more confident entrusting your child’s care to others.
Facing Your Fears
Having concerns about letting your child spend time away from home — especially right after diagnosis — is completely normal. “As a parent, I can tell you that it’s difficult to allow your child to go away for camp or sleepovers, even if they don’t have a medical condition,” says certified diabetes educator Julie Paul, R.D., C.D.E., a registered dietitian and program coordinator at WakeMed Children’s Endocrinology and Diabetes in Raleigh, N.C. With diabetes in the mix, you may feel even more strongly that you’re the only source of the best care and support for your child. “There’s so much hands-on care required, and there are so many different factors that influence blood sugar that you don’t have control over,” says certified diabetes educator Anita Krolczyk, C.P.N.P., C.D.E., a pediatric nurse practitioner at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago. “With all of these variables, it’s understandable that parents are hesitant to let children be away from them.”
That said, there can be value in allowing children some time away from Mom and Dad, even — or perhaps especially — when they have diabetes. “If children are kept from activities, they may start to feel and believe that something is wrong with them,” says Chicago-based psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., or that they’re being punished. Type 1 causes children to grow up more quickly in some ways; letting kids be kids by spending time with friends and getting to do the same types of activities as their classmates can help. These brief periods away can also help build the trust between you and your child that you’ll both need as he or she gets older.
Field trips are a great place to start, since they’re school-sponsored. Policies vary by state, so ask about your school’s accommodation plans: Will there be a school nurse present? Do you, your spouse or another relative need to chaperone? What is the plan in place if your child has a medical emergency on the field trip? (Ideally, your 504 Plan should spell this out.) Once the necessary details are ironed out, make sure your child has a backpack with supplies he or she will need on the day of the field trip, which may include testing and insulin dosing supplies, snacks and water, juice, glucose tabs and other low blood sugar treatments, emergency contact information, and a cell phone if possible.
“On my son’s first field trip right after his type 1 diagnosis, I was a nervous wreck,” recalls Monica of Park City, Utah, whose son is now 8. “My fears were alleviated somewhat by the school nurse being in attendance, but I kept worrying anyway. Eventually, I had to take a deep breath and realize that this was a good thing for him and for me. He needed some independence, and I needed to let go a little bit. We both learned a lot that day!”
Once you’ve got a field trip or two under your belt, sleepovers may seem more like a possibility. If you’re ready to RSVP “yes,” make sure the host’s parents know that your child has type 1 diabetes and ask if they’re willing to learn how to handle your child’s diabetes care for the night. If they agree, teach them the basics of treatment: what they need to do, when they need to do it, meal guidelines, warning signs if something’s wrong and what to do in an emergency. “Describe and write down protocol and procedures — however, keep the information simple,” Lombardo advises. “Always leave your cell and home phone numbers and let the caregivers know they should never hesitate to call if they have questions or concerns.”
Jennifer of St. Louis, Mo., says her 9-year-old daughter (who was diagnosed at age 7) went on her first sleepover last year. “There were a lot of calls between me and the other mother throughout the evening, but it went pretty smoothly,” she says. “I had given the mom my Diabetes 101 training, and she felt comfortable. My daughter and I had a long talk beforehand about making healthy choices for snacks and meals while she was staying at her friend’s house, and I made sure everyone knew the proper testing times. My daughter texted me her numbers after each time she tested. I was freaked out, but I survived, and it has gotten easier each time she’s gone on a sleepover since.”
Consider starting slowly with a slumber party at an aunt’s, uncle’s or grandparent’s house, like a certain young monkey with type 1 diabetes in Coco’s First Sleepover, the new book published by Disney and Lilly Diabetes. Ask your diabetes healthcare provider for a free copy, and use the discussion guide at the end to talk with your child about what to expect before the big night.
Once you have the sleepover mastered, it could be time to start researching summer camps. “Many states have camps specifically for children with diabetes so both campers and parents feel comfortable,” says Paul. “Diabetes camps have medical staff present to manage care for the children so they can focus on having fun.” For parents, letting go is always the difficult part, but it can have major benefits. “Many parents admitted when they came to pick up their child that this was the first time they were able to sleep through the night since diagnosis,” says Krolczyk.
If your child’s heart is set on a camp that’s not specifically for kids with diabetes, make sure that it’s equipped to handle a camper with type 1. “Check with camp administrators to see who is trained to help with diabetes care,” says Paul. There may be medical staff available or even a camp counselor who is willing to be trained. It’s a good idea to make sure there are multiple people trained to handle diabetes care. “Kids with type 1 have a lot to deal with to manage their blood sugar, and that can make them feel different from their peers,” says Paul.Whether they’re ready for camp or just rejoining play-dates, it’s important that children with diabetes are able to go out and experience life the same as any other child.
Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about diabetes camps and the Lilly Diabetes Camp Care Package Program.
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.