October is here, which means it’s time for the leaves to change colors, the air to take on a crisp chill, and spooky decorations to adorn the neighborhood. Halloween is right around the corner, to the delight of every candy-loving kid in town. Who doesn’t have fond memories of collecting a pillowcase-sized haul of sugary loot and dragging it back to their house, to be gorged upon in the ensuing weeks (or – let’s be honest – days)?
However, if your child is part of the 10.5% of the population who suffers from diabetes, Halloween can mean an entirely different set of horrors. While loading up on refined sugar isn’t necessarily the healthiest dietary practice even for non-diabetic children, it can cause downright dangerous episodes of hyperglycemia in diabetics. If not addressed, severe episodes of acute hyperglycemia can cause both short-term and long-term detrimental impacts on your kids’ health.
Fortunately, you and your kids need not despair; it is still entirely possible to have a fun, memorable Halloween with diabetes, and even to enjoy small amounts of candy – but doing so requires a little bit more effort and attention on your part to navigate the potential pitfalls of trick-or-treating. In this article, we outline some strategies and tactics you may wish to employ this year to keep your family healthy and happy this spooky season.
The most important part of ensuring a safe Halloween for your kid is to create a solid battle plan well in advance. Decide how many streets or houses you intend to visit ahead of time to control the level of candy intake that you will have to deal with once you return to your house. Decide how you will control when and how much candy if any, your kid should be eating in the following days or weeks according to their specific dietary needs and restrictions. And, if your kid will be attending parties or get-togethers at school or with friends, decide how you will navigate the challenges of bringing snacks.
Set up clear lines of communication
Kids love Halloween, which means they will inevitably become giddy and excited when the big day finally rolls around. To avoid raining on their parade, and to make sure that you’re both clear on your expectations around candy consumption, it is best to establish clear lines of communication around the topic well in advance. Communicate the importance of following your rules and emphasize that doing so is for their own health and safety.
Equally important is to communicate with members of the community who interact with and supervise your children regularly. This can include your children’s teachers, coaches, babysitters, and anyone else in a similar position. Make sure that these individuals are aware of your child’s condition, that they understand the limitations you’ve enacted around candy consumption, and that they are willing to enforce the rules when you aren’t there to do so yourself. It is also wise to generally inform them about the nature of diabetes and how to recognize when your child might need their assistance, even outside of the Halloween context.
Exchange your kids’ candy for something else that they will still enjoy
It’s no secret that kids and candy go together like bears and honey. Almost all kids will inevitably look forward to Halloween as a source of endless sugary treats. Simply prohibiting your child from indulging in candy on Halloween without striking some sort of compromise is likely to lead to a whole lot of disappointment, resentment, and frustration on their part.
Instead of an outright ban, consider finding a trade-off that your child will accept. Find something that your child enjoys other than sugary snacks that you can offer in exchange for their candy. This way, they still get to indulge in the joy of dressing up in their favorite costume and taking to the streets for some trick-or-treating, and they also get to look forward to coming away from the experience with a collection of goodies (albeit healthy ones).
For example, consider stocking up on small toys or trinkets that your child likes playing with. Or, set up a trade-in system where each piece of candy earns your child virtual currency they can spend on their favorite video game. In fact, anything that your child enjoys can stand as a substitute for candy. The point is that your child will still associate Halloween with getting some goodies, and won’t feel so left out of all the fun of diving Into the spoils of trick-or-treating.
Make a tradition of donating some or all of their Halloween candy to those in need
If you opt for limiting your child’s candy intake, you will still need to find a way to dispose of all the candy they’ve brought home but aren’t allowed to consume. Keeping it around the house is probably unfair to your child, as it may tempt them and make it harder to comply with the guidelines you set up for candy consumption, and it will probably tempt you as well.
Instead of wasting or eating the candy yourself, we recommend finding a way to donate or repurpose the candy in such a way that those less fortunate than your family can still enjoy it. This can even become a nice tradition that your children will look forward to each year, while also imparting to them valuable lessons about generosity and sharing.
Many shelters and food banks will gladly accept such donations and will ensure they are enjoyed by all the people who make use of their services. Bringing the candy to school to hand out will also make your child quite popular among their friends, and may be greatly appreciated by classmates who were not able to partake in trick-or-treating for whatever reason.
Hand out something other than candy from your home to avoid tempting leftovers
We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of buying a ton of candy in bulk to hand out on Halloween, only to find that our supply far outweighed the neighborhood demand. We’re left with a bowl full of inhuman amounts of sugary goodness laying around the house to constantly lead us to temptation. Your diabetic children will experience the same temptation, so it’s best to simply avoid the scenario altogether by not ending up with such huge quantities of candy laying around. However, calculating the precise amount of candy we will need on a given night is always a guessing game. Instead, try stocking up on a non-candy alternative to hand out to trick-or-treaters that won’t leave you and your kids in this situation.
While some kids may groan, sugar-free candy, pre-packaged low-sugar fruit snacks, or boxed raisins, all make excellent trick-or-treat fare, and may actually break up the monotony of only receiving candy. We should note that it is not a good idea to hand out fruits or veggies that you package yourself, since kids should not be accepting such items for safety reasons, and their parents will probably just make them toss the items in the trash.
If you’re determined to hand out candy, you can opt to specifically purchase a variety that you know your child doesn’t enjoy. This achieves the same intended effect of limiting temptation.
Emphasize the many other fun aspects of Halloween
There’s no denying that candy is fun. But Halloween is fun for many reasons besides candy, even if that tends to be the first thing our little ones fixate on. To ease the burden of denying some or all of your kids’ candy to them, try to emphasize some of the many other enjoyable aspects of this time of the year. Picking and carving pumpkins, picking out or making a fun, spooky, or pretty costume to wear on the big night, and walking around the neighborhood with your family and/or friends are all major benefits of Halloween that should not be overlooked. Blowing the significance of these elements up can help drown out any disappointment your kid feels and will make sure that they get to experience most of the joy of Halloween that their non-diabetic peers do.
Be informed about the nutritional content of different candies
Not all candy is equally bad. We already mentioned sugar-free candies, but even among those with sugar, the exact sugar content can vary wildly. Being well-informed about the sugar and carbohydrate levels of different candy types can help you be more reasonable with the guidelines you set for your kids. See this link for a list of nutritional information on some of the most popular Halloween candies.
Living with diabetes can be especially challenging for children, who may not yet fully understand and accept their condition. Missing out on fun activities like indulging in the spoils of trick-or-treating can exacerbate their negative feelings about having diabetes, instead of teaching them to adapt and thrive with it. For this reason, it is particularly important that parents and guardians do everything in their power to accommodate their children’s condition and achieve as much normalcy in their lives as possible.
Planning for a safe and happy Halloween for diabetic children may take some additional effort, but doing so will help your child create positive memories that will last them a lifetime.