Sunday, November 23, 2014

So You've Invited a Type 1 Diabetic to a Birthday Party... What Now?? (Diabetes Awareness Month)

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month.  
Each week I'll be featuring a diabetes-related post. 
Anything specific you'd like to read about?  Let me know!

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A blogger friend, Ann-Marie, asked a great question regarding hosting a party or event that a child with type 1 diabetes would be attending.   Thanks, Ann-Marie!  It was so thoughtful of you to ask for suggestions on how to help a family with this specific need!  

cupcake image from
I have to be honest, if I was to give you a list of the things that are trickiest to navigate with a type 1 diabetic child, parties would be very close to the top.  Perhaps other t1d moms would answer differently, but for me, buffets and tables filled with snacks for the taking are kind of a nightmare.  Snacking and drinking go hand in hand with mixing and mingling, but the carbohydrates consumed while "grazing" as it were, are very tricky to keep track of, especially when a child is running around and enjoying all that a party has to offer!  

But I have children, and I know what it's  like to host and attend large-scale parties with lots of kiddos, so I know that buffets will never go away!  Busy hostesses know that snacks and buffets are the way to serve a crowd without going crazy, right?  On top of all that, children (and adults) with diabetes have to learn to live and be healthy in the real world (which includes parties and buffets!) so in my mind, there's really less that a hostess has to worry about and more that we have to do to educate and train our child.  Instead of expecting a party to be catered to our diabetic's needs or turning down invitations to parties that don't have a pre-planned menu for a sit-down meal, Russ and I have to work at guiding Aaron through how to attend a party that has a snack table and how to have fun and enjoy himself while also taking into account his health and well-being.

With all that being said, a thoughtful hostess can still help a diabetic (and his parents!) by taking a few things into account.  

* Let the parents know that they are welcome to attend the party and stay for the duration.  At this point in our diabetes journey, I cannot imagine dropping Aaron off at a party alone.  He is not fully capable of doing his own carb counting/insulin dosing/correcting for physical activity, etc... and I would never place those responsibilities on the hosts of a party.  I can't speak for everyone, but I think that for most families, if the parents aren't welcome at the party, the diabetic child would not be able to attend.  

* If you know what you're going to serve, offer to send the menu to your guest ahead of time.  This is probably the best case scenario.  A diligent parent will have an idea of what her child will most likely eat off of that menu and can begin to prepare even before the party starts.  They might alter what a child eats for breakfast, for instance.  Or some parents, knowing that there will be a snack table with party-perfect carbohydrate delights (like chips, pretzels, and fruit), may prefer to give their child a partial bolus of insulin so that the child will have some "on board" as he makes his first trip to the buffet.  (A bolus dose of insulin is insulin given to specifically cover carbohydrates consumed as opposed to the daily injections which provide a baseline.)  

* If you serve something from a package or make something from a box mix, save the packaging or the nutrition label, so that the carbohydrate info is available to the parents.  I have gotten pretty good a guessing on basic party foods like pizza, cake, and ice cream, but if you make something out of the ordinary or you set out a bowl of Chex Mix, it would be a really nice gesture to have the serving size, carb info, and measuring cup on hand.  

* Have diet drinks available.  Even though diet drinks are one of those things that make health-conscious people cringe, they can set a parent's mind a little more at ease at a party.  At a party, people tend to grab drinks and enjoy them over the length of the gathering.  Having diet pop or diet lemonade lets a diabetic hydrate with something a little more "fun" and "party-like" than water, but not have to consume it all at once and take insulin injections for each glassful.   If you're uncomfortable serving diet drinks, the next best thing you could do is suggest that the guest bring his or her own.  It really makes that big of a difference!

* Ask your guest to bring a treat to share at the party.  Many parents may offer anyway, but even if they don't offer outright I think most would be happy to bring a treat to share that would be appropriate for their diabetic child.  Giving them the OK to bring something low carb or carb free might make the party more "do-able."  Treats like no sugar added popsicles or sugar free jello can easily be enjoyed by all the kids in attendance.  

* After you've made some, all, or even none of the suggested accommodations for your diabetic guest, you're done.  The child is not your responsibility.  His parents should (and will!) monitor him and care for him.  You don't have to drastically change your party, but the parents and the diabetic child do have to be attentive and diligent.  Attending events with food and managing blood sugars while there is all part of learning to cope with the lifelong illness.

* Finally - and I'm pretty sure this goes without saying - please don't make a fuss over the child with diabetes.  Unless a child is visibly unwell, there is no need to comment on his condition, and especially not about what he's eaten or what's on his plate.   He may want a private place to check his blood and receive insulin so as not to draw attention to himself, but in my experience, those things become second nature so quickly that a child and his parents won't think anything of just doing it to the side and having it done with before anyone else notices.  There really is no need to draw attention to anything diabetes related, and if a concern or question does come up speak to the parents in private.  Kids even with this chronic disease are still kids, and it's healthier for them emotionally and psychologically to be "just another kid" at the party.   The parents will thank you for treating him as such and will be so grateful that you invited him in the first place!  Thanks for not holding back the invitation because of his condition!!

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Ann-Marie, I hope that helps.  I truly appreciate the question and I'm touched by your thoughtfulness and desire to support parents and kids with this particular situation!  Bless you!

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Other posts in this series:


  1. Think I've told you, my best friend's son has T1, he's 10 now so it's all getting easier and I'm comfortable enough to have him over on his own now. Then again he can test himself now and also give insulin if needed. Majority of the time the moderate his insulin via diet and exercise (whole nother arena) so I'm comfortable enough to know what he can and can't eat and the amount, that's important too. For parties it's just a matter of asking and making sure, one party we gave him a whole punnet of strawberries to himself, he was pretty stoked with that:)
    Though the other day we spontaneously had him and my husband kept saying he should get out of the pool and test himself, it had been a while, the lad was sure he was fine, turns out husband was right he should have tested, fortunately he didn't have a crash, but next time I won't always trust a 10 yr old and will insist he tests.

    1. So glad everything turned out well that day! Your friend is so fortunate that you and your family are capable of helping are for him while he's with you :)

  2. Theresa, I love this post so very much! It's perfect and so needed! So glad Ann-Marie asked the question. I'll try and think of another question that may help bring more clarity and awareness. Great job, momma! I'm off to share it on FB now. Will share it again this week too.

  3. This is so helpful! You offer some great ideas. It's so simple to save the packaging and have a measuring cup on hand, I just never thought of it. This is a great list for other kiddos too; I'm thinking of our friend whose daughter has a peanut allergy. And thanks for pointing out that kids are kids and just need to be another kid at the party. So true. Great post!

    1. Good point about the allergies, Ann-Maria. Now that we are more in tuned to what Aaron is eating, it has definitely made me aware of some of the issues allergy-sufferers have to deal with. In some ways, I think they may carry an even heavier cross.
      Thanks again for the question. I appreciated being about to sort through it myself!


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