I always looked forward to July 4th festivities starting with picnics, family time, and sunshine, capped off with where to find the most spectacular fireworks. Before we had children I imagined how we’d share the magic of July 4th fun with them to make long lasting family memories. But like so many pre-parenthood imaginings, reality can be a bit different.
Like what if your child not only dislikes fireworks but finds the noise totally disturbing due to his sensory issues? Or what if the sight of a bee disrupts that idyllic image of a family picnic? What if the excitement of that many activities is too much, or the transition from one activity to the next is difficult for your children?
Many families with young children decide to focus on daytime activities anyway since fireworks by definition occur so late at night for them. So brainstorming other fun activities from a family hike to picnic or visit to a children’s museum can take the pressure off doing something that will be difficult to manage. My article July 4th Family Fun Activities, Crafts and Recipes features a variety of ideas.
Here are some tips for July 4th happiness with children, especially those who have sensory issues or other special needs:
Share what to expect. Tell them ahead of time, at least the day before and repeated the morning of what the plans for the day are including who will be there, where you’ll be, and activities. Include in that regular routines that you will be keeping to, for example, if they are still taking a nap, you might say what you’ll do in the morning, then it will be nap time, then we’ll go to the park for a picnic, etc.
Address the Bees and Bugs Challenge. If you’re planning outdoor time and your child has an issue with bees or bugs, talk about it. For example, we used to tell our son that the bee is more scared than you are, especially if you start swatting at it (and of course that is when you are most likely to get stung but we were careful about what we said about that). We told him that you need to stay calm and walk away or wait a moment to see if it moves off on its own. It took time but over the years as we continued talking about it and working on it became calmer and less nervous about bees, though he’s still not a fan.
Review who they’ll be seeing. If they haven’t seen family members you’ll be with, remind them about the people using age appropriate terms. If they are old enough, share when they last saw these relatives, what some common interests might be, and how they are related.
Pack necessities and just in case gear before heading out. While not wanting to carry gear heavier than a small car, it’s always strategic to plan for realities that might arise with kids, whether it’s an extra outfit, water bottle, or some small sand toys.
Try to plan around your family’s realities while still having July 4th fun. If your child has a major issue whether it’s that skipping a nap is a nightmare for the rest of the day or they have a major sensory issue with fireworks, it can be well worth it to modify your plans to that reality. Think about what is most important to you about July 4th and adjust the plans to still get a taste of what you care most about while also accommodating your child’s needs.
Which brings me to the fireworks challenge. For children and teens with sensory issues or conditions like autism, fireworks that seem beautiful and amazing to us can feel like an utter nightmare. We have one son who as he grew older truly tried to work with us to try different strategies to overcome how disturbingly loud and rattling he found fireworks. But in the end her realized he just can’t countenance them in person. Maybe some day that will change but at the end of the day it’s more important to us to respect his needs than to push him beyond his tolerance level since he has truly tried.
Here are approaches we used to try to help him enjoy the fireworks in case they might be helpful:
- Wearing earplugs or earplugs and over the ear headphones
- Going to the furthest edge possible away from where they were putting on the fireworks but where you can still see the fireworks (there is still a booming sound and some sensory rumbling that bothers our son but for some kids this might gradually desensitize them)
- Scripting him ahead of time about what to expect and how the noises and rumblings are part of the experience, encouraging him to focus on watching the beautiful colors and visuals and trying to ignore the auditory sounds
- One adult goes with the child that loves the usual fireworks so they can enjoy that aspect of a typical July 4th evening and one adult enjoys a quieter July 4th either working on the approaches above or enjoying the fireworks on tv or computer at home
Do you have a child who can’t tolerate fireworks or has other challenges that make July 4th celebrations complicated? We’d love to hear how you’ve handled it.