4th of July fireworks: how to keep scared kids calm

Fireworks are a time-honored Fourth of July tradition, but for young children, they can often be more frightening than fun. Here's how to ease your little ones into the festivities, according to clinical psychologist and child and family expert Dr. Barbara Greenberg, PhD.

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1. Leave babies and toddlers at home

Live fireworks can cause "unnecessary stress" for children under five years old, Greenberg said, especially if they're pre-verbal and won't understand the reason for the "loud, unpredictable sounds, bright lights and crowds." However, these are merely "developmental guidelines," and if your preschooler would love the spectacle, it's fine to bring them along.

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2. Discuss the event beforehand

“Generally, kids are less anxious when they know what to expect,” Greenberg said. Explain how fireworks operate — "pretty lights" followed by a booming sound — and describe your viewing location, including how long it'll take to get there and how many other people might be present.

You can also prepare your child by watching a movie or YouTube clip of fireworks together at home. If possible, find videos of past versions of the show you'll be attending.

Turn the TV off when you can and turn the conversation on where possible. And remember; loving them is easy, it’s rearing them that’s hard but it does get easier with practise.

3. Pick a family-friendly spot

Consider local beaches or schools where other families will be gathered, Greenberg suggested, as observing other children's reactions will help your little ones settle in. "If the other kids are calm, they’re likely to think, ‘Oh, it’s OK to be here,’” she said.

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4. Bring earplugs and a comforting object

Pack your child's special toy or blanket to help them adjust to the new environment, Greenberg said, and a pair of earplugs in case the noise is upsetting.

5. Take their fears seriously

“Nobody gets over a fear by being told that they’re being silly or childish, or by [someone] saying, ‘Look at your brother, how comfortable he is,’" Greenberg pointed out. Instead of invalidating or joking about your child's anxiety, stay close by and coach them through each firework until they start to understand the pattern.

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6. Keep your own anxieties under control

Calm is contagious,” Greenberg explained. "If you’re a parent and you have a lot of anxiety about fireworks, kids are going to pick up on that." Try to model the relaxed attitude you'd like to see in your child.

Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.

7. Have a back-up plan

If the live fireworks are making your child miserable, there's no need to tough it out. Arrange for a responsible adult such as your partner or friend to take them home, where they can watch the display on TV with the sound off.

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This story was originally published in 2016.