By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
June 21, 2011
One of your kids is terrified of fireworks but you don't want the whole family to skip Fourth of July festivities. What to do?
Both of our kids loved fireworks; both of our grandsons hated them. It became evident that the actual problem was the noise. A pair of commercial earplugs for each of them solved the problem, and fireworks are now an integral part of our family's Fourth of July itinerary.
— Michael P. Gleason
We faced this concern with our then-nearly 3-year-old son. He liked the pretty colors in the sky, but the previous year was frightened of the noise and the crowds. I checked out a DVD from the library featuring fireworks ahead of the event. We watched it together, talking about what would happen, why you feel the noise in your belly and why it was so high in the sky. He was able to control the noise level by muting and unmuting the TV. The night of the event, we gave him a pair of industrial ear protectors and found a spot far from the crowds. He did great! On another occasion, when we did not have the ear protectors, we parked our car so we could all four sit in the front seat and watch from inside the car.
— Jennifer Johnson
Ah, the things that delight adults and scare the daylights out of children: Santa, life-size Disney characters, fireworks.
If your child is old enough to have a discerning conversation, start by asking what he or she doesn't like about fireworks, suggests clinical psychologist Gerald Koocher, co-author of "The Parents' Guide to Psychological First Aid: Helping Children and Adolescents Cope With Predictable Life Crises" (Oxford).
"Is it the noise, the flashes of light, the fact that watching may involve being among a crowd of strangers at night, or something else?" he says. "Another question to consider is whether the child is generally fearful or anxious, or if fireworks is a unique fear."
Then you can formulate a solution.
"Suppose the child reports flashes of light and noise as the problem," Koocher says. "Consider asking, 'How about going to the local drugstore and getting you some earplugs and sunglasses? We can test them out at home before we go.' If darkness is a concern, add a small flashlight to the mix. If the younger child has a favorite blanket or plush toy that acts as a security object, let him or her bring it."
A slightly older child may want a security object of a different sort.
"Bringing the portable PlayStation and earphones can become a focus rather than the fireworks," he says.
If the child is too young to put words to his or her fears, think about what usually provides comfort.
"You have no doubt observed them get through a scary situation and probably have some idea what worked," Koocher says. "You can reflect that observation back to them, and use it. 'Remember when we went to see the Snow White movie and you got scared by the wicked witch? We held hands (or you sat in my lap) and that made you feel better. Want to do that at the fireworks?'"
Of course, you could draw straws and assign one grown-up to sit out the fireworks with the child.
"Letting the child stay home, or engage in an alternative activity elsewhere with another adult, is certainly a valid option," says Koocher. "However, that would still leave the parent clueless about what the child is actually worried about. Asking the right questions first and giving the child the opportunity to participate in a family activity by creative problem-solving would be my preferred option. If that won't work, the alternative activity is fine."
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