October is my diagnosis month. At 14 years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just a few weeks before Halloween. I remember thinking, at least I’m too old for trick or treating. My younger sister had been diagnosed six months earlier, however, and at 10 years old, she still loved to trick or treat. To ease her pain, my parents got creative and shifted the emphasis of Halloween off sweets and onto scary: Haunted houses, hayrides, and parties with bowls full of smushed tomatoes for witches hearts and cold grapes for eyeballs became our annual tradition. My sister and I still said no to most of the sugary sweets, but we were the first ones to say yes when the doors of the haunted house opened.
Kids with diabetes are accustomed to saying no: no to the birthday cake, no to pizza, and no to juice boxes. Most of the time we don’t feel sorry for ourselves because saying no is just a normal part of life, but holidays can be a challenge. Halloween comes just once a year, and it isn’t fair to keep kids with diabetes at home while everyone else is trick or treating. But it also doesn’t seem fair to let your child gather a bucket full of sweets that she can’t eat. So what is a parent of a diabetic child to do?
Jeff Hitchcock, founder of Children With Diabetes, says that he doesn’t make a big deal about Halloween candy with his type 1 daughter. Every parent knows that the more you say no to something, the more your child is going to want it. The best thing you can do for your child is to allow candy in moderation and get creative. Teach your child that Halloween is about more than candy.
Parents of kids with diabetes suggest the following:
· “Candy Fairy”: Encourage your kid to put candy on the front step for the “Halloween Fairy,” who will leave a desired toy in place of the candy.
· Party Time: Focus on the tricks, not the treats, and buy glow-in-the-dark bracelets, stickers, pencils, and bouncy balls to offer trick or treaters instead of sweets. Invite a group of kids over for a haunted house and a pumpkin carving or costume contest.
· Moderation: Allow your child to choose two pieces of candy to eat on Halloween night, and save the rest for those inevitable low blood sugar episodes. Check JDRF’s Halloween Survival Guide candy carb count: (http://www.jdrf.org/index.cfm?page_id=106002)
· Halloween Candy Buyback: This is part of Operation Gratitude, in which dentists “buy” candy back with cash, coupons, toothbrushes, and “creative exchanges,” and ship the candy to troops overseas. (http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/)
It’s been 31 years since my diagnosis. While I managed to avoid Halloween for years, I’m now a mom to three boys who love this holiday. Thankfully, my dad’s enthusiasm taught me that Halloween isn’t just for kids. This weekend, I went shopping for my costume. I also bought treats to leave in a bowl at the door while we trick-or-treat tonight through the neighborhood. I made sure to buy candy that I don’t like, to limit my own temptation, and I’m including nonedible items in the bowl as well. As I walk the darkening streets with my family, I’ll say yes to this holiday, because it turns out that Halloween is a lot like diabetes: scary and sweet.