Keeping the Fourth Fun

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The Fourth of July is a really exciting time for most people. It’s the first official holiday after school has ended and it’s really feeling like summer with the days being longer and less structure and routine for the most part. For most kids, fireworks, BBQs, beach/pool days and celebrations are nothing but exciting and you just have to keep your fingers crossed that the lack of sleep and excess sugar and junk food don’t have too hard of a fall out. With that said, there are also a lot of kids that this supposed day of fun and celebration only causes stress for both the kids and for their grownups. Kids who have sensory processing challenges can find the Fourth of July a really hard day. It’s a day filled with unpredictability, loud noises and music, bright lights, new people, new food and so much more that can really throw any kid off but definitely be harder for a child with sensory issues.

In today’s blog post, I want to share some tips, strategies and advice to help make this day fun for everyone in your family, even those with who are sensory sensitive.

Firework Displays
Fireworks are the highlight of the Fourth of July. I know as a child, and even now as an adult, fireworks filled my soul with such joy. Wondering what would happen next and how the sky would light up. It was exciting and beautiful. But imagine if you were a kid who was scared of loud noises, bright lights and big crowds of people? Fireworks might not be their thing and that’s okay. Here are some thoughts about what you can do to support your sensory sensitive child during fireworks:
*noise cancelling headphones could be a game changer for a child who is super sensitive to noise. While they still might get some of the bangs and crashes, it won’t be as intense and they can enjoy the fireworks without the intensity.
*watch fireworks from a distance and away from a crowd. Don’t feel bad if your noise sensitive child sits in the car with an iPad or books while the rest of the family enjoys the fireworks right outside.
*sometimes kids are excited about the fireworks but need preparation. Watch YouTube videos of all kinds of firework displays and adjust the volume as they are becoming more comfortable so they can get mentally and emotionally prepared and if you see them becoming more anxious or concerned, pause and talk about things you might be able to do in that moment. Help them prep a bag with headphones, fidget toys, squishie balls and/or their lovies to help them through those tricky moments.
*if you have a child who is afraid of loud and unpredictable noises and you know that there will be fireworks in your neighborhood, come up with a plan for your child. Perhaps you have a basement that they can stay in during the fireworks or maybe you hop into the car and take a drive to someplace that will be firework free during that time.

BBQ’s and Fourth of July Parties
We are living in a post-covid world and that means many of us will jump at any chance to celebrate and gather with our friends and family after way too long. For many children they will adjust and jump into the the fun but there are a lot of children who don’t do well with crowds, don’t like new foods and become anxious in a new environment. There is no reason for families to avoid these parties that will be enjoyable for some or most of the family but there are ways to make it work for those who may not adjust quite as easily.
*do not expect your picky eater/sensory sensitive child to eat what’s being provided. Go prepared with snacks, a Bento Box with their favorite foods and don’t feel bad about having to make a McDonald’s/fast food run so you know your kid is going to eat.
*don’t be embarrassed if your kid needs a break from the party and be sure to bring things that provide them with comfort. Bring bubbles for them to blow while on a little walk to regroup, bring chalk to draw on the sidewalks or driveways or let them go sit in the car or an empty room in a house with an iPad or book or whatever brings them so sense of comfort.
*if your kid has a talent/skill/major interest, bring an excess of that to the party so they have something they can share with the other kids. For example, if your kid loves coloring, go to the Dollar Store and buy a bunch of coloring books and crayons and let them give it out to the other kids. Find a safe place for your kid to color and other kids will join.
*noise cancelling headphones may be your child’s best friend yet again. Not all kids are into parties, crowds and noise and that is totally fine. Meet your kids where they are in the moment….it doesn’t mean that one day they won’t be super into parties but right now, it’s not their thing and that’s totally fine. I have to imagine that if you are going to a party, the people know you and understand your child and their sensitivities and will help you have an enjoyable experience. Ask the host of the party if there is a quiet place you can bring your child who has sensory difficulties to when things become too intense. Maybe there is a basement where they can’t hear the fireworks, noises of the crowds and can just decompress with their tools that bring them comfort.

Plan Alternate Celebrations
There is no shame in deciding that celebrating in your own way at home or in a quiet place is best for your family and your sensory sensitive child. If you have children who are looking forward to all of the Fourth of July celebrations, find family or friends to take them with them.
*divide and conquer as parents and choose who will go to parties or fireworks displays and who will stay home. More often than not, there is a parent who is more comfortable going to the events and those who are okay with staying at home.
*watch fireworks from home on TV. We are so lucky to live in a time that you don’t have to be actually see amazing fireworks displays from all over the world. The best part is that you can transport to anywhere you want in the comfort of your child’s home. Turn the volume up in your child’s safe space, watch the fireworks with no volume or with headphones.
*you are in complete control of your child having a successful and meaningful celebration. Don’t feel bad about making the decision mid-party or celebration that going home and avoiding chaos will be best for your kid and your family.
*sometimes children feel shame or embarrassment if they have to leave a party so come up with a plan or an excuse that can be used before going to the party. Have a signal or code word picked out before getting to the party with your child which will alert you that your child needs a break or needs to leave entirely.
*celebrating the Fourth of July is not for everyone. You know your kid better than anyone so if you think the best plan is to stay home and just have a regular day, do that. Sometimes we think that if we push our kids just a little they will have a great time and while that might be the case for some kids, there are kids that it’s not worth the tears, anxiety and potential of making them hesitant in the future to try out new things.

Wishing you all a Happy Fourth of July however you decided to celebrate!

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