Educating other parents, play dates and birthday parties
To help support a child coping with a new type 1 diabetes diagnosis, one of our primary goals is to help
get children back into the activities they previously enjoyed. Part of normalizing the diagnosis is helping
the child see that they can do all the same things that they did before being diagnosed with type 1
diabetes. For children, a big part of their social life involves play dates and birthday parties. This can
seem like “the Mount Everest” when your child is newly diagnosed, but through this article I will give
you tips, tricks, and scripts to help you get your child back into enjoying all the social fun they are
#1: Educating other parents and clarifying misconceptions about type 1 diabetes
Unfortunately, there are so many misconceptions about diabetes, and it is important that the people in
your child’s circle have the right information. ATTENTION EVERYONE IN THE WORLD: TYPE 1 DIABETES AND TYPE 2 DIABETES ARE VERY DIFFERENT. One more time for the people in the back!
This is one of the most frustrating aspects of having the type 1 diabetes talk with those outside of the
T1D world. How many times have you heard: “Oh my grandpa has dia-bee-tez and can’t eat sugar too.”
Something we recommend in our clinic is sending an email to the parents of friends in your child’s social circle. This is a great tool to ensure that everyone is getting the same information, and that it is
accurate. Here is a sample letter that our Social Worker created for parents to use as a guide. Feel free
to use this as a guide when writing your own.
You are receiving this email because your child is a good friend of (Name).
We are writing to share some news about (Name) in hopes that you can help by sharing this news with
your child. On (date), (Name) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Some of you may be familiar with type 1 diabetes, but for those of you who aren't, here is a quick
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition whereby the immune system attacks and destroys the
insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is an important hormone made by the beta cells of the
pancreas. The job of insulin is to pair up with the sugar from the food we eat so we can use the sugar for energy throughout our body. Without insulin, the body is unable to use sugar for energy. Because
(Name's) body no longer has beta cells, they aren’t able to make insulin. Because of this, we now need
to test (Name's) blood sugar at regular intervals throughout the day (we do this by a small finger poke or CGM) and give them insulin by (injection/pump/pod) when they eat meals and snacks so their body can use the sugar from their food for energy. Your child may see (Name) do these things when they are
together and may have some questions. It is important to know that (Name) will be okay. They can do
all the activities they did before. They will continue to (insert favourite activities here - swim, skate,
draw, dance, play hockey, karate etc), go to birthday parties, eat cake and go trick or treating.
Our team at (CLINIC NAME) informed us that kids often have many great questions after they learn that a friend has type 1 diabetes. Below are answers to some of the most common questions kids ask:
1. (Name) is the same person they were before, there are just a few extra things they have to do to take care of their body now - mainly check their blood sugar and take insulin when they eat meals and snacks.
2. (Name) did not get diabetes from eating too much sugar or from not getting enough exercise. There is nothing that anyone did to cause this to happen.
3. (Name) can still have all the same foods they did before, including treats!
4. You cannot catch diabetes.
5. There are many different types of diabetes and each one is very different. (Name) has type 1.
6. (Name) will not outgrow diabetes.
7. Sometimes kids worry that "Di"abetes means you are going to die. You can reassure them that that is not the case.
Thank you for taking the time to read this message.
Please let us know if you have any questions.
#2: Creating a safe play date
Ask questions, plan, and be available if needed. It is a great idea to call the parent who is the hosting
the play date first. Ask questions about what kinds of activities the kids will be doing and whether or not there will be a snack or meal involved. You will obviously plan differently if it is a day of crafts indoors versus a water balloon fight in the backyard. Based on what activity is planned, you can provide the parent and your child with some direction about preventing low blood sugars, and also how to treat should it happen. If food is involved, have technology on your side! There is nothing wrong with a quick FaceTime or Video Call with your child or the parent hosting the play date. This gives you an opportunity to do the carb counting (or double checking) and provide guidance on insulin dosing. If the child is able to self-inject or operate their pump independently, you can be on the video call to supervise the insulin administration. If the child is not able to independently take insulin, there is nothing wrong with you popping back over to the house to give the insulin then leave again!
Now you have done all you can to make a safe play date, but what if you feel really nervous about
leaving your child? Give this a try: start by driving your car down the street. If your child is using CGM,
you can monitor from a distance, but know that you are close by if needed. After this goes well, perhaps you move a little further away – you could try going to a store that is close by to run some errands, but know you can pop back to the house in a matter of 5 minutes. If you are not using CGM, there is nothing wrong with calling every hour to check in.
Discover the freedom that the Omnipod DASH® Insulin Management System can offer your child by registering for a free Pod Therapy 101 webinar here.
#3: Handling birthday parties
Birthday parties are one of the most enjoyable activities for children. There is no reason why a child
with type 1 diabetes should miss out on that. As the saying goes, LET THEM EAT CAKE!
I would suggest these strategies for birthday parties:
- Call the parent hosting and get a rundown of what to expect at the party regarding activity, food, timing, and other variables that could impact diabetes routines.
- Based on what is planned, you can provide the parent and your child with some direction about preventing low blood sugars, and also how to treat should it happen.
- If your child can independently administer insulin, you can do a video call or ask the parent their comfort level to supervise (especially if you already know what they are eating and when). Toss a sticky note on their diabetes supply bag with the dosing for the cupcake, slice of pizza, or whatever is on the menu. Your child can eat the same foods as the other children at the party.
- If your child needs help administering insulin, find out when the food is being served and pop back in to give the insulin. You can leave again right after!
- Be available as needed, and if you are nervous, you can stay close by as outlined above. There are many parents who decide to stay at a birthday party, even if their child doesn’t have a health condition.
Remember, it is just one day. Birthday parties don’t happen all the time, so do your best with
estimating and planning. If it doesn’t go perfectly and blood sugars are a bit higher than usual, be gentle with yourself and correct the high when the party is over.
The greatest gift you can give your child is showing them that type 1 diabetes will not hold them back
from doing all the things they love to do.
Keep Calm and Play On!