We live in the middle of a rural county outside city limits. There are no laws here prohibiting the sale or use of fireworks, so basically, on any day resembling a holiday, someone within earshot is going to light up the atmosphere in celebration. On the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, the sky over our neighborhood looks like Disneyworld at closing time.
I absolutely love watching fireworks. On our first Fourth of July together, my husband stood behind me with his arms around me while we watched the display, and whispered in my ear that he was going to marry me someday. Fireworks are attached to some of my beautiful memories.
But I’m a mom now, and as it turns out, kids don’t always love booming explosions and sudden flashes of light. At one point or another, both of my older kids have freaked the heck out during a fireworks display, and I’ve had to figure out how to calm them back down.
One of my sons went through a short phase where the sound of fireworks outside terrified him. He was fine if we were watching them and he was prepared for the sound, but the unexpected booms and pops in the night were enough to send him flying into our room in tears.
Over the years, I’ve been able to comfort my kids through their fears using a few handy tricks. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Talk it through.
The tiniest of kiddos might just have to skip the fireworks displays until they are older. Kids who can have a conversation can probably benefit from an explanation. Prepare them ahead of time for what they will hear and see. Explain that it will be loud and bright and sudden, but noise and light can’t hurt them. Let them know that if it gets too scary, you are right there to hold them and help cover their eyes and ears. Be willing to take them back to the car or inside a building if they get too scared, and don’t shame them for needing to leave. Conquering a fear takes time.
2. Three words: Noise. Canceling. Headphones.
For ten or fifteen bucks, you can get earmuffs that drown out most of the noise. If your kid will tolerate wearing them, pop those bad boys on a few minutes before the show, and call it a night. We keep a few pairs in our van. My oldest son has worn them to airshows, monster truck rallies, and fireworks displays. My younger son even wore them during church when the music was a too loud for his newborn ears.
If you spend a little more, you can even buy noise-dampening Bluetooth headphones. Your kid can rock out to his favorite music and watch the pretty colors without fear.
3. Let them wear sunglasses.
My middle son is autistic, and he usually does really well with lights and sound, but when he was a toddler, the flashes of firework light startled him. He didn’t freak out, but he did shut his eyes. My husband handed him his sunglasses, and that’s all it took. Whether it was the darkness they provided, the fact that they were Daddy’s, or the feeling of a barrier between his eyes and the scary sight, a simple pair of sunglasses took care of most of the fear and allowed him to enjoy the show.
4. Create a safe, comfy “nest” full of your kid’s comfort items.
Some kids might feel more secure if they have their own little safe, comfy space to watch the show. We usually bring a collapsible wagon and line it with pillows or stuffed animals. We toss in a backpack stocked with a water bottle, a snack, headphones and sunglasses, along with a light blanket. Our little guy can burrow down into his comfy wagon, grab whatever makes him feel good, and watch the show from his own little space.
5. Use a sound machine.
Maybe you aren’t trying to hit up a celebration, but like my family, you can’t escape the sights and sounds of fireworks in your very own back yard. If you can get your kid used to sleeping with a sound machine at night, you can just crank up the volume on nights when noise is likely. We use an iPad app hooked up to a Bluetooth speaker with a nightlight. It’s gotten us through a few of our neighbors’ more joyful celebrations.
Pro-tip: This is great for thunderstorms and annoying early morning barking dogs, too!
6. Have a family slumber party!
Firework noise is almost certainly going to be the worst from sundown to midnight or so. Plan ahead and bring your frightened kiddo into your bed or pile everyone up on the couch. Declare a family sleepover. Turn on a movie you loved as a kid, make some popcorn or root beer floats, put on your comfiest jammies, and snuggle your way through the scary explosions. When the fireworks are over and your child falls asleep, you can even put them in their own bed. If you can find a way to create a positive association with the loud noises, it can help relieve some of the fear for next time.
Watching fireworks as a family can be a fun way to celebrate holidays and special occasions, but it can come with some understandable anxiety for sensitive kids. With a little pre-planning and some understanding, a lot of scared kids can learn to enjoy—or at least tolerate— these colorful, sparkly displays.