Although it’s a time for celebration, the July 4th holiday presents challenges for many kids, especially those who are sensitive to crowds and noise. Fireworks and large gatherings can lead to sensory overload, and a fun time can quickly turn into overwhelm and possible meltdowns. Following are some tips and tools to help get your child ready for the holiday.
- Talk with your child about the things he or she remembers from last year’s 4th of July, and discuss how this year’s event will be the same (e.g., location and parade) as well as how it might be different (e.g., people attending, weather forecast, food served, etc.). Discussing past memories and future predictions are excellent ways to build your child’s executive functioning skills and help them build a mental image of what to expect. Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen (Speech Pathologists and executive functioning experts) call this strategy “same but different.”
- Ask your child about similar events (e.g., a group picnic, barbecue, or baseball game) and discuss the challenges and coping strategies you may have used during that event. Brainstorm ways to adapt strategies that have helped in the past to the July 4th event.
- If your child has a hard time relating the events of the day to other events or past July 4th celebrations, look at photos from previous gatherings or search for photos online or video clips that show similar occasions and situations. Discuss the various aspects of the parade and/or picnic. As you discuss the happenings for the day, draw or color in pictures of the events. Make a schedule if your child benefits from visual reminders of what is to come next.
- Remind your child that others may be setting off sparklers or small fireworks and that these are dangerous to touch or get close to.
- Make a plan for taking breaks as needed. Some kids may benefit from regular breaks every 15 or 20 minutes to prevent overwhelm.
- Before the festivities start, choose a place that’s set apart from the noise and crowds as a spot for taking breaks.
- Have your child wear earplugs and/or a hoodie sweatshirt if noise sensitivity is an issue. (Bring earplugs even if the child doesn’t think they’ll be necessary.)
- Do your best to assure that your child is well rested, fed, and hydrated before the fireworks, parade, or other big events.
- Prepare your child for being in a crowded space. Make sure they follow the group plan and stay close by. Remind your child about personal space and that pushing or touching other people can make others feel uncomfortable or angry.
- If your child has a strong negative reaction to the noise or crowd and wants to leave, that’s the best idea. Sometimes a child is too frightened or overwhelmed, and it’s best to head home and try again next year. Consider taking two cars if other people will be affected by that decision and won’t want to leave.
We all feel more comfortable when we know what to expect and when we feel prepared and ready to manage social situations. Take the time to prime your child for success, and enjoy a safe and happy Fourth of July!