Written By Deb Hopper, Occupational Therapist
Celebrations, New Years Eve Cheer and How to Survive the Fireworks and Stay Sane
Christmas is over, leftovers are on the menu, and the fireworks are the next big event on the holiday calendar for New Years Eve. It’s hot (well, here in Australia it’s steaming), kids are tired and excited all at the same time.
Enthusiasm and expectation are in the air, glow sticks, picnic and drinks are packed. It’s fireworks time! Yet for our sensory kids, knowing how to survive the fireworks and surviving New Year’s Eve and be a juggling act between having excited kids having fun on one hand, or a full blown meltdown on the other.
As the parent of a sensory sensitive child, the New Year’s Eve fireworks have been a learning curve in putting into practice all the strategies that I tell my parents to do in my Occupational Therapy role.
My sensory sensitive baby and toddler is now a tween so I have 10 years of experiencing different degrees of sensory overwhelm from New Year’s Eve to the next holiday season. My experience is that of how my son reacted, which will be different from how your child reacts and the strategies that work for you.
Know your strategies for how to survive the fireworks: You are the expert of your child.
Yes, you are the expert of your child. If things fall apart at the fireworks, follow your gut parent instinct. Don’t worry about the family sitting next to you who have everything together with the perfect kids who haven’t fought all afternoon and don’t get high on sugar (really, if there is any such thing?). You know your child and you know how best to comfort them, if they need you to be close, or if they need some space or to go for a walk.
Top 7 strategies for Surviving the Fireworks on New Year’s Eve for your sensory sensitive child.
Here’s some strategies to survive this New Year’s Eve:
1. Create a space and safe place for your fireworks viewing. Get there early to set up. Find a space, and reserve with picnic blankets twice the space you really need. If people say something, tell them you are expecting friends later. Having extra space gives everyone room to wriggle and move and have more personal space within your area.
2. Find a place at the edge of the park, at the water front, bedside a path, or somewhere where you won’t be stuck in the middle of the crowd. Having an easy escape route is helpful in case you need to go into survival mode or if you need to go for a walk or toilet breaks.
3. Take the ear muffs or iPods with ear buds. Having a means of creating a sensory safe way of blocking out the noise of people chatting as well as the fire works gives your child a plan and a strategy for knowing what to do if things get too noisy or too overwhelming.
4. Make sure your child knows what the plan is. This can be done with having a conversation, but some children need to have the plan written down either with a list or with visuals and pictures. Write down in the morning of December 31:
a. What time you are leaving?
b. How you will get to the fireworks eg walk, train, bus, car?
c. What time you will get there?
d. What will happen while you are waiting? (picnic, takeaway, snacks, go for a walk, take a book to read)
e. What time are the fireworks?
f. How long the fireworks will go for?
g. What time you will leave?
5. Make sure they know what they can do if they feel overwhelmed or upset by the noise.
a. Do they want to wear headphones or ear muffs?
b. Let them know they can come to you for a hug if they want
c. Let them know that you can take them for a walk if needed
6. Normalise that many children don’t like the noise. Acknowledging this is really important for children to understand and they won’t feel as different or isolated.
7. Take spare pairs of ear muffs. If you have extra headphones or ear muffs, even Dad’s gardening ear muffs, take them along and offer them to other children or adults. Lots of people find these strategies helpful.
What I found helpful as sensory strategies with my son (from a paediatric and sensory Occupational Therapist)
In my experience of having my own sensory sensitive son, we found the following helpful:
1. Taking his favourite camping chair (giving him a safe space that he felt safe and secure in)
2. We go early in the evening (around 5 – 6pm) to try to reserve the same space from year to year (sense of safety and regularity in location)
3. We set up picnic rugs with extra space in our area to reserve our safe space
4. We always set up next to the path (for extra space and so we can go for walks if needed)
5. We have found this really cool space with a concrete slab that the kids set up their chairs on (again, they create their own cool space)
6. Ear muffs are very cool. We take extras for friends and cousins
7. While we wait, we also go to the park nearby and have a swing and a climb and fill the kids’ sensory systems and bodies with great sensory input which helps them cope with the noise of the fireworks.
8. We take lots of food and snacks, and try and reduce sugary foods so they get nutritional food and try and keep their blood sugar levels sustained. Reduces the “hangries”. (“Hangries is an expression from an advertisement which describes a mixture being “hungry and angry”)
9. Hugs are always on offer, especially if a cool breeze comes up or they become overwhelmed.
Going to the fireworks can be challenging for sensory sensitive kids, but these strategies can help make it much easier. You can also see our short Fireworks Survival Guide here.
Happy holidays and happy fireworks watching!