Halloween — the very word can send a shiver up the spines of children and parents alike, albeit for very different reasons. While the kids are probably looking forward to costumes and trick-or-treating, the parents are likely more concerned about the vast quantities of sugar their kids are going to amass and what it’s going to do to their blood glucose control. As the parent of a child with diabetes, you may be wondering how to approach this holiday. What do the medical experts advise? What do other parents do? What would your child like to do? For tips on how to approach Halloween, as well as answers to these questions, we asked medical professionals, parents of children with diabetes, and adults who were diagnosed as youngsters for their opinions and advice on celebrating All Hallows’ Eve.
Getting into the spirit
As with many things in life, much of the excitement of Halloween comes from the anticipation and preparation leading up to the day. Planning a party, choosing or creating a costume, picking out a pumpkin and carving a jack-o’-lantern, or making arrangements for a visit to a haunted house or a hayride are all good ways to get into the Halloween spirit. Susan Shaw, diagnosed with diabetes as a child, says that she “would encourage families to have rituals to celebrate Halloween that include carving the pumpkin, toasting and eating the pumpkin seeds, and bobbing for apples.” This way, she explains, everyone can join in the festivities, and no special arrangements need to be made for the child with diabetes.
Putting together a costume can be fun for everyone in the days leading up to Halloween. Although Kerri Morrone Sparling, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 6, remembers the candy from Halloweens past, recollections of the treats don’t hold a candle to her fond memories of the costumes. Your child may enjoy taking a trip to the store to select a costume or, for a more creative touch, gathering materials to create a homemade costume.
Trick or treat!
Trick-or-treating is an important part of the Halloween experience, and everyone we talked to agreed that a child with diabetes should not be denied the opportunity to engage in the same activities as the other kids in the family. Indeed, as Allison Nimlos, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 8, points out, the walking involved in this activity provides a healthy dose of exercise (and it may even make taking extra insulin for a small treat unnecessary).
Once the candy has been collected, there are a number of ways to handle the booty. Penny, mother of a young boy with diabetes, allows her son to pick out a few pieces of candy to eat when he gets home from trick-or-treating, covering the extra carbohydrate with a bolus from his insulin pump. He also gets a piece or two of candy for dessert several nights a week for one or two weeks, at which point any candy left over is thrown away. According to Penny, “I guess it would be a problem if Riley wanted to eat a ton of candy at one time. But for now, he’s satisfied if he gets a small piece of candy after supper.”
Since candy is high in sugar (and sometimes fat) but devoid of most other nutrients, this can be a good approach for siblings without diabetes, too. Kevin McMahon, fomer president of diabetes technology company Diabetech, has two daughters, one with diabetes and one without. After trick-or-treating, both girls choose a handful of their favorite sweets and then barter the remaining candy for a special prize such as a trip to the zoo. According to McMahon, “The girls don’t seem to mind, and they’ve bought into the fact that sweets aren’t the best choice anyway, whether you have diabetes or not.”