I remember other children pairing off for playdates after school when my daughter was in kindergarten. It seemed so carefree, but it wasn’t something I was comfortable with at the time for my young child living with diabetes. But in the years since, I have found ways to let her have playdates just like her peers. Talk to your child’s diabetes care team about it and then see if any of these strategies might work for you.
At first, I found that inviting kids over to our house after school was the easiest way. Other parents loved getting the invitation, and I didn’t have to worry about training them to care for her. But that only lasted so long; soon she was begging to go to someone else’s house. And quite frankly, our kids need to go to their friends’ houses, too, and not always be under the watchful eye of their own parents.
To ease into playdates, you can have a family playdate where both children, both parents, and perhaps even siblings participate in an activity together. This is often a good icebreaker to introduce the other parent to the basic needs of your child, including checking his or her blood sugar, handling lows, and giving snacks.
The next step might be arranging a playdate at a public place where you can be accessible, but inconspicuous. Good locations for these types of playdates include the library, the mall, or a playground. You can be out of sight enjoying a book and an iced tea, and your child or the parent can get you if, and only if, you are actually needed.
The ultimate goal is to let your child have a playdate at another family’s house without you at arm’s reach. It’s important for d-kids to have this freedom and to work up to being responsible for themselves.
Before the playdate, make sure that the parent is aware that your child is living with diabetes, and at drop off, give some basic guidelines. If your child is proficient at checking his or her own blood sugar and administering any needed insulin for snacks, it might just be a matter of telling the parent what to do if your child feels like he or she is low or there is potentially an emergency situation. Decide how you will communicate: whether it’s the parent calling or texting you, or your child checking in with you, perhaps at set times.
Keep your ears open for families who have some firsthand knowledge of diabetes. We know two children at school who have a parent living with type 1 diabetes. There are also parents with medical backgrounds. These families may be very comfortably tasked with the care of your child.
In my book Kids First, Diabetes Second, I offer the following tips for playdates:
- Teach, but don’t overtrain other parents. While you want them to be knowledgeable, you don’t want to scare them off.
- Include an instruction sheet that highlights symptoms of low and high blood sugar and how to treat them. (Read more about hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar here. For the symptoms of hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, click here.)
- Show the parents the contents of your d-supply bag so that they know what the blood sugar meter looks like and where you keep the juice and the glucagon kit with an explanation and a reminder to call 9-1-1 in case of emergency.
- Send an appropriate snack or give a list of common snacks and portion sizes.
- Remind them that you are only a phone call away and won’t mind being called even for what might seem like something trivial.
I believe that allowing our children to progressively have more and more freedom for playdates during the elementary school years will potentially help them gain confidence in their own care and let them know that you trust them to make decisions about their diabetes. This is an important stepping-stone to the transitions that will occur in the middle school years when your child will likely have after-school activities and sports practices where you are not always present. Even our younger kids need space from us to grow, socialize, and come into their own.
Leighann Calentine is the author of the book Kids First, Diabetes Second and the website D-Mom Blog. She is married with two children – including a daughter with type 1 diabetes – has a graduate degree, and works for a major university doing research. Calentine is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience