It’s that day again! I remember as a child how excited I was. And why shouldn’t I have been? The day brings such excitement to kids across the United States and such fear to some of their parents. All parents have a legitimate right to be worried, with obesity on the rise and diabetes reaching pandemic levels.
Excitement is in the air! The leaves will change soon. The parties are planned, picking out costumes and discussions of “What will you be doing on Halloween?” will become more common as we meet with our friends and families.
Some adults will be going to costume parties, and other adults will be taking the kids out for trick-or-treating. There are those who will be staying home while avoiding the West Village Halloween parade in NYC, like the plague. Then there are those who are young at heart, dressing up and head out to the Halloween parade, either to be a part of it or as spectators.
For children, it is about dressing up and going out trick-or-treating, or so it would seem. I recall when I was growing up, those kids would talk for weeks or at least a few days before trick-or-treating about the candy they would get and how much they got last year. Some would talk about how they would hit the houses with the best candy first to get more candy than the year before.
Don’t get me wrong. I do recall talking about dressing up as a superhero and comparing notes with my friends. But, it didn’t compare to the way my friends and I would light up every time we talked about the candy.
It’s the night of Halloween and adults are either at a party or being a parent and taking their children trick-or-treating. So, you go from house to house saying trick or treat and then the person at the other side of the door drops candy into your bag.
After an hour or two, you and your child head home carrying a bag of candy that weighs a pound or two or more. Think about it! Candy sprawled all over the floor or kitchen or dining room table. Excitement is in the air, and for some, it’s even better than Christmas.
What happens next is different for everybody. Some parents let their kids hold onto the bag of candy, trusting their child and letting them eat it at their pace. Others parents who recognize the dangers of giving a bag of candy to their child may dish it out a little at a time.
What happens next for children with diabetes and the overweight child can be very different. Some parents don’t see the risk and give the whole bag to their child while others overreact, not allowing their child to go trick-or-treating at all. For those children allowed to go, they may just get a few pieces, while the rest is trash.
Epilog or Aftermath!
The emotional impact on this group of children is astronomical. No matter which option you pick, it may still be very traumatic for the child.
If you give your child living with diabetes or not the whole bag, they’re very likely to binge. Binging causes a spiral of guilt knowing that they’re not supposed to be doing that. For children with diabetes, this causes out-of-control blood sugars; that may become high enough to land your kid in the hospital.
When utilizing the method of dishing out the candy out a little at a time, your child may feel punished for having diabetes. When the truth is this is healthy whether your child has diabetes or not. It is important to let your child know that even if they didn’t have diabetes, you would still be only giving them a little at a time. The same goes if your child has a weight problem tell them it’s not because of their weight but because it’s unhealthy to eat too much candy at one time.
When overreacting and not letting your child go trick-or-treating, you are creating isolation from their peers. Overreaction is not healthy for any child, diabetes, weight problem or no weight problem. The damage from this can be catastrophic. When your child goes back to school, the next day they end up listening to all their friends and peers talk about all the candy they collected and how much fun they had trick-or-treating. The discussion amongst their peers may have several effects on them. Your child may be perceived as different, or it will make you child feel different. They may feel isolated from his/her peer group at a time it’s so important for them to feel like they fit in, that they are normal. Hey! They might even get mad at you!
The last method where parents just give a little bit of the candy and throw the rest away or give the rest away is also damaging to your child. Making them feel different for having diabetes or being overweight. Having to go back to school and trying to fit in may cause them to lie about how much candy they have. It will cause them to have feelings of isolation, embarrassment, guilt, sadness and anger with no one to talk to out of fear of rejection from their peer group.
Parents of these children struggle to make the right decision and sometimes are very punitive about what decisions they make. They may fear that the choice they make today may hurt their child and for those parents that have kids with diabetes it’s even tougher. The concern that the choice you make might end up killing your child can create incredible anxiety and heighten stress levels. The dangers for these kids, both physical and emotional are real, but they are avoidable.
There are several things you can do to help protect your child with diabetes or obesity. You can accomplish this through honest and open communication around the decisions you’re making for and with your child, depending on their age. Ask yourself whether your decisions around how to handle this holiday with your child’s particular issue are based on your fears or what is healthiest for your child.
Halloween is a fun holiday and should be enjoyed, but take precaution, as there are lots of hidden issues. It seems to be a holiday where, whether you’re an adult using it as an excuse to binge on alcohol or a child who is binging on candy, unhealthy behaviors seem to be everywhere. In the United States, Type II diabetes is on the rise. According to the American Diabetes Association by the year 2030, a third of Americans will have Type II diabetes, with similar numbers around the world. How we behave in regards to our health will be a factor as to whether this statistic becomes fact or fiction.
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
For more information go to his website or Facebook Page or set up a free 30-minute phone consultation to see if talk therapy is right for you.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.