Our country’s Independence Day celebration – better known as the 4th of July – is truly one of my favorite holidays. What can be better than a day at the pool or the beach with family and friends, hamburgers and hotdogs cooked on the grill, and a spectacular fireworks show on a warm, summer evening? Not much, right?! Well, for a kid with sensory processing disorder, my idea of perfection might seem more like a day of torture – especially during the fireworks show.
Too often, parents of sensory sensitive kids have to handle meltdowns or choose to hide out from the world instead of participating in our annual country-wide birthday party. But, what if I told you that with a little thought and preparation, a family with a sensitive kiddo can be part of the festivities? You can! Just follow these helpful tips.
As any parent of a sensory child knows, preparation is often key. Doing a lot of prep work ahead of time will help your child to cope with the situation, manage his or her sensitivities and even enjoy the experience.
- Limit the number of sensory exposures – Take an assessment of what activities the family would like to participate in and determine which ones might be difficult for your sensory kiddo. Every kid is different, as well as every community, so plan accordingly. Maybe your child would prefer watching a 4th of July Parade through town, but wouldn’t be able to handle the fireworks display. Or, perhaps it’s the other way around and avoiding the parade is best. You know your child best and know how much is too much. Limit your plans to what you feel your kiddo can handle.
- Limit the amount of junk food – This one might be difficult with all the cookouts, barbecues, ice cream trucks, etc. that might occupy your plans, but could be critical to helping your kiddo avoid a difficult situation. Too much sugar could lead to hyperactivity that will only enhance their sensitivities. Choosing healthy fruits, veggies and proteins might make all the difference.
- Prepare the child before hand – Talk to your child days before hand about things that you know might upset him or her. Let your child know that there may be large crowds or very loud noise involved and reassure them that it doesn’t have to be scary.
- Rest before the festivities – Especially if you’ve already had a long day and you’re set on a fireworks show, give the child some cool and quiet down time a little while before. It will give everyone – you included – a chance to recharge their batteries and be better prepared for the evening fun.
- Set expectations – Sometimes a child just needs to feel in control. Find out what time a fireworks show or parade is expected to be finished so you can help your child understand how much time is involved. Just knowing how much longer something is, might help your child to better cope.
What is it they say about location? It can make all the difference. Sometimes just finding the right spot can help your child to relax and enjoy a great fireworks show.
- Find a secluded spot – When I was a kid, my family would always watch the city’s professional display from a nearby elementary school playground or even sometimes the high school football field. These were some of the higher points in town, which meant we could see a really great display from pretty far away. The display itself was far enough away that the noise wasn’t bad at all. Amazingly, no one else had the same idea, so we usually had the location to ourselves. We’d spread out a blanket and have a couple of snacks and it was truly perfect. Of course, every city and town is different, and this may not be a valid option, but try some things out. You might be surprised at what you’re able to come up with for a nice and happy time with your family.
- Watch from the car – As I said, sometimes seclusion is just not an option. If not, try watching a display from the car. It might help to muffle some of the sounds. This may also help your child to feel safe since the car is familiar.
- Watch from inside or on TV – The neighborhood I live in now is inhabited by serious pyrotechnic experts, I think. I mean, it must be anyway, because every street is equivalent to a professional display. Every street! While this really could make things difficult for sensory kids and pets alike, it does provide the ability to watch fireworks from pretty much any window in our house. While this is certainly not ideal to a lot of sensory kids, it might be just what the doctor ordered for some. And for real, mom wants to stay home in case she needs to call the fire department.
During the Show
- Bring a familiar or favorite item – Wherever you decide to watch fireworks, bringing along a familiar or favorite item might give your child comfort if they have a moment of anxiety during a particularly loud or crazy moment.
- Establish a safe space – Have a designated place available that your child can escape to if things become too intense. It might be the car, the basement of your house, or I even saw that one parent would set up a tent where they were viewing fireworks. If things got too loud or scary, the child just crawled in the tent and felt better.
- Earmuffs and sunglasses – If your child is sensitive to noise, give them a pair of noise cancelling headphones or earmuffs to help muffle the noise. It might make it easier to enjoy the pretty show. Or if your child is sensitive to flashes of bright light, a pair of sunglasses will soften things up a little bit.
- Use fidget items – Bring along a few fidget items. If your child can focus some of his or her energy and attention elsewhere, they will have an easier time coping with the situation.
- Play a prediction game – While you’re watching a fireworks display, ask your child to guess what color each rocket will be or how many seconds until they hear the bang. Your child may have fun trying to guess, but it will also help to establish some predictability about what is happening.
- Be mindful of your child’s cues – Finally, watch your kiddo for how he or she is handling the day and each unfamiliar situation. Watch for his cues or signs that a difficult moment is brewing. If you notice some familiar signs, don’t be afraid to call it a night and head home a little early. It’s better to have a shorter night of fun, then a night that turns into a meltdown.
Here’s hoping your 4th of July celebration goes off with a bang! Happy Independence Day to our SmartKnitKIDS family and Happy Birthday, America!