When I was a kid, the 4th of July was my least favorite holiday. The day itself was fine…eating watermelon, playing in the sprinkler, but when the fireworks came out I headed straight for my bedroom and shut the door. I loved the way the fireworks lit up the sky and if I’d had a mute button to make the sound go away, I would have clicked it and enjoyed the view. Instead, while everyone else was waiting for the next burst of color to light up the sky, I was hiding in my room waiting for it all to be over.
The kids I work with are very much the same. The startling sound of the fireworks, the BOOM!, makes anxious kids cower down and hide. We know that the amygdala (fear center of the brain) is heightened in anxious kids so it’s no wonder the BOOM! of the fireworks makes anxious kids have powerful reactions. When kids feel anxiety in their bodies, they want to run away from the anxiety-producing event (in this case the fireworks) and there’s no talking them out of it. Explaining that fireworks are just for fun and that they won’t hurt anyone is of no use. The fear in their body will override any explanation you could give.
If you have an anxious kid this 4th of July, here are a few ideas:
1. Sparklers work great, especially before the show. Sparklers are a great way to introduce an anxious child to fireworks. They are fun, don’t make much noise and allow kids to be part of the event without having to actually watch the firework show.
2. Come back and get your child when it’s over. Make sure the fireworks have all been let off before you go get your child. Let the adults around you know it’s important to have a stopping point, that your child needs one, and then go rescue your child with a sparkler in hand. This eases the re-entry back into the group. A lighted sparkler will make all the difference.
3. Help your child feel empowered. Instead of saying things like “You can’t handle the noise,” or “Fireworks are too much for you,” say things like, “You know when there are noises you don’t like,” and “You can choose to leave when you are ready.”
Does this get better? Parents always ask if there’s a point where kids are no longer afraid of fireworks. The answer is…sometimes. Sometimes kids have a positive experience and want to watch fireworks the next time. Other times, kids will go inside, watch television, choose to do something else during the firework show. They may also cover their ears and hide if you’re away from home. What’s important is that your child has the tools to handle difficult situations and can join the group when he feels capable enough to do so.