Have a Sensory-Safe 4th of July!

When Zoe was little, fireworks were very difficult for her to stomach. Some years, she would cry most of the night as neighbors and friends shot them off. But, we don’t have that problem anymore and I’d like to think that we helped her overcome it somewhat. What did we do?

We started by taking her to fireworks shows, making sure that we could take her away from the light and sound, and positioning ourselves far away from the noise. For example, when we were in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, we’d bring her outside for a few seconds of fireworks, and then bring her back inside the shops near her favorite toys. We also showed her fireworks on TV with the volume turned down – and gradually made it a little louder, bit by bit. If it bothered her at any time, we’d turn it off.

My husband, though, was eager to shoot off fireworks at home. The first year, my daughter put herself to bed as soon as he started. The next year, she started watching the firework display through the window, and then quickly retreated further back into the house. But through the years she made it back to the window to watch the whole show. Last year, she watched from an open door and this year, she didn’t mind even being a few feet away.

Now, your child may never get fully comfortable, but here are some tips for a sensory-safe 4th of July!

1. Let your child lead.

There is no rule that says you have to watch fireworks; however, in many neighborhoods you cannot get around the fact that it’s a very loud (and disturbing) night. Find a quiet area to get away for the night.

2. Buy noise-reducing headphones.

If your neighborhood is loud and you can’t get away, a good pair of headphones will help. Many kids easily adapt to headphones, but you may want to start with a lighter pair or ear buds so your child can get used to them. You can even play something they enjoy listening to, or use the headphones to minimize the noise from the fireworks – just test them to make sure you can’t hear the loud booms first!

3. Replace the fireworks. 

If this is a non-starter for your child, then you can replace the fun with light up or glow in the dark toys, such as light sticks, glow balls and gyros. You can even get toys that allow your kids to create art (their own fireworks!) and project the light onto the wall or ceiling.

4. Have a backup plan. 

Even if you do your best, there’s no guarantee that the house behind you or down the block won’t blast off some loud fireworks, so have a plan in place for your child if that happens. Prep whatever he or she needs to calm down and have it on-hand when the fireworks start. Remember to talk your child through it, regardless of whether you think he or she can understand. Your calm, soothing voice can go a long way to relieving anxiety.

This 4th of July, your child can keep cool and enjoy the holiday if you plan carefully and provide the tools he or she needs. You may even create a family tradition that will last for years to come.