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The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes

October 2009 -
The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes Newsletter

Halloween- A Trick or A Treat?

Let's face it, it isn't the witches, ghouls and goblins that are scaring us, it is the highs, the lows and the unexpected. When your child has diabetes, a great family holiday like Halloween can seem like a walk through a haunted house. This is our eighth Halloween with Danny since his diagnosis, and experience has made each night easier. At the same time, there is no perfect plan. Each year your child gets older, the trick-or-treat route changes, and the diabetes routine is different. This holiday takes patience, forethought and lots of communication to be enjoyable.

In writing the article below for Diabetes Health magazine, I had the opportunity to review the last seven years. In the resource section, I am including the Halloween tips that I wish I had had when Danny was first diagnosed.

My best wishes to you for a safe and happy Halloween.

Laura Plunkett

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“Halloween has put many a sane parent over the edge. Mix together late hours, the temptation of candy bars that slip so easily into the mouth, high and low blood sugar levels and other families who seem to navigate the holiday without a care in the world, and it is a scary bubbling brew! No one wants to be the wicked witch or warlock, always on the verge of cursing a much anticipated holiday with worry and dread. On the other hand, it takes some planning and creativity to keep everyone safe and happy.

Our first Halloween after my son Danny was diagnosed with diabetes, I was a ball of nerves. As with every “first” that year, I found myself trying to micro-manage an event that we had never really paid attention to before. Danny was eight years old, his blood sugar levels were alternating between very high and very low, and we were facing a holiday that had always been about the candy.

As Halloween approached, I secretly bought small objects that he would like: matchbox cars, fancy pencils, baseball cards, a spider ring, and a deck of cards. Then I asked each of our closest neighbors to give one to Danny when he arrived at their door, explaining that the little gifts would give him something to enjoy while his friends were eating candy. The neighbors were happy to cooperate. At the end of the night, Danny ate a couple of his favorite pieces of candy, but he required only one extra shot, and he was very excited about his toys.

A little later, as I read the ingredients on the candy bars that the kids had collected, I realized that those artificial colors, flavorings, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners weren't good for anyone in our family. But I didn’t want a struggle over those bars for the next month! So, to my kids’ delight, my husband began a new tradition: He offered to buy their leftover candy to bring to his office.

Most importantly, we spent a lot of time on costumes and decorations. We started early, had a big healthy dinner with the kids’ friends, visited with our neighbors, and ended the night with a bonfire. Those early traditions have persisted, and for years, Halloween was my son’s favorite holiday.

I still remember the year Danny made a last-minute announcement that he was ready to trick-or-treat on his own. We scrambled to plan a route, to schedule blood sugar check-ins, to draw up an insulin dose he could give himself, and to arrange keeping in touch by cell phone. His friends arrived, and off they went. My husband and I didn’t need costumes to look freaked out that year!

Now Danny is 15 and the tallest person in our family. Our blood sugar checks are now text messages. He carries his own diabetes supplies and makes his own candy decisions. Last year, he and his friends dressed up as clowns. At the end of the evening, he triumphantly handed his dad a huge pillowcase of candy, knowing that he had made some serious money. He still fills up on good food before he goes out, and he always stops by the bonfire with his friends, but there is no sign of the tentative, anxious mother and the wide-eyed child who navigated their first diabetes Halloween.”.

Share Your Tips

Judy Robinson sent me the following suggestion:

“Every year at back to school time Staples has crayons for 10 cents a 24 pack and Market Basket has bubbles for 10 cents. I stock up on both of these for the young kids and buy a few dozen toothbrushes at the Dollar Store. I give the older kids a toothbrush and the younger kids a choice of one. The younger kids' parents are usually very happy about the selection.” Thanks Judy!

Our next newsletter will focus on helping kids make good choices. If you have a story to share about your family's  experiences, I’d love to hear from you at newsletter@challengeofdiabetes.com.

October 2009

Jack O Lantern

Halloween Tips:

1. Plan ahead. Each year your child is ready for more independence, and the rules change. If your child wants to trick or treat without you, plan blood sugar check-ins and know your child’s route. Create a set of rules with your children about how much Halloween candy they can eat. If they help determine the rules, they’ll be far less tempted to cheat. Decide how much insulin your child will need to cover the candy that you agree he or she can eat. If you are giving candy to trick-or-treaters, buy it at the last minute so that no one in your family is tempted to snack on it ahead of time.

2. Be alert for Halloween surprises. I remember Danny’s last minute announcement that he was ready to trick-or-treat without me; the year the test kit was missing; and the Halloween party with only candy and juice. The combination of excitement, sugar and lots of walking can lead to swings in blood sugar levels, so be sure to pack your diabetes supplies.

3. Halloween can be about a lot more than eating candy. Talk with your kids about trick-or-treating with neighbors who would be fun to walk with. Spend time making costumes, including one for you. Look in the newspaper: Is there a haunted house or other community Halloween event? You could even have a few friends over for a party to bob for apples and pin the broom under the witch. Moreover, most kids are far more interested in how much candy they collect than in how much they eat. Let them pick out their three or four favorite candies and then decide together what to do with the rest.

4. Don't forget yourself! Too often I ended up rushing, without time to change into my costume, eat, or enjoy the evening. Are there neighbors you'd like to walk with, events you’d like to take the kids to, a costume you always wanted to wear? A happy, relaxed parent is the best treat we can give our kids on Halloween.

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