Happy Holiday Advice for Parents

The holidays usually mean lots of changes in your normal routine—changes in eating habits, activities, stress levels, and surroundings, among others. When you have a child with type 1 diabetes (T1D), these changes require extra careful planning and monitoring of blood-glucose levels, which can be quite intimidating. With a positive attitude and some practical tips, however, you can still have a wonderful holiday season—maybe even your best yet.

Talk to family, friends, and teachers before special events

Holidays almost always mean lots of parties and lots of extra carbohydrates. If you know about parties in advance, you can plan ahead by either adjusting your child’s insulin requirements for the extra sweets, or providing alternative snacks. Remind friends, family members, and teachers to be sensitive, as the holidays can be an especially difficult time for kids with T1D. Also, focus activities on things other than food and sweets. Many parents suggest activities like crafting homemade decorations or greeting cards before or during gatherings.

Don, father of Dana, who was diagnosed at age five and is now 16, says, “Over the years, we have educated the extended family and friends about preparing foods that use sugar substitutes and are low in fats. We also make sure there are plenty of fresh vegetables around. We have started several new traditions that do not focus on food at all. There are always puzzles to work on at one part of the room. We have group games—like Catch Phrase and Brain Warp—that are active and welcome newcomers. This takes the place of people eating and then resting on the couch. Sometimes the house gets pretty wild!”

Check blood-glucose levels more frequently

On top of the changes in your child’s diet and schedule during the holidays, the stresses and excitement that come with those changes can lead to dramatic swings in blood-glucose level. Each child is different, so the key is to expect the unexpected, and try not to panic. Check your child’s blood sugar often (or have your child do it, if he or she is able), and remember that there are no “bad” readings, because as long as you have the informatio,n you can make the necessary adjustments.

Gail, mother of Emma and Sam, who both have T1D, shares her experience: “When Sam was an infant and toddler (he was diagnosed when he was six months old), a holiday and all the excitement and stimulation of the day would cause dramatic drops in blood sugar. It was as if he were running a marathon. I would suggest that parents of young children monitor and watch specifically for those lows, even if you think the candy cane would result in a high blood-glucose reading.”

Stay active

Exercise helps improve blood-glucose control and is critical to good T1D management. Don’t let cold weather keep you and your children indoors—go for walks, go ice skating, or do whatever activities you enjoy. Exercise is also a great reliever of stress, which has a tendency to sneak up on us during the holidays, so it’s probably a good idea for the entire family.

Have fun and celebrate!

As Gail wisely suggests, “Relax as much as possible, and remember to celebrate, which we should do every day of the year. Rejoice in our wonderful children and the joy they bring us. Without finding that joy, life with type 1 diabetes could be dismal. Yeah, it is tough, and we are tired, but that means we need to celebrate even more than others!”