Many of the national holidays around the world incorporate fireworks. Here in the UK, tonight is Bonfire Night which usually sees a few days of large public and smaller private fireworks displays and bonfires. Even during COVID-19 restrictions, there are expected to be many private displays. But these bright, loud, smoky displays can be overwhelmingly noisy and unpredictable for people with sensory integration and sensory processing difficulties - particularly for children who may not be prepared for the event. We’ve collated some tips and alternatives that you can try to better manage such celebrations.
Ahead of time, explain to your child what happens during fireworks and bonfire displays. There are lots of free, downloadable social stories on the internet: this one, although specific to July 4th celebrations, is very good.
Younger children might enjoy looking at picture books about fireworks, such as Daniel Tiger’s First Fireworks.
Ensure your child understands the safety rules around fireworks displays, including not getting close to the fire or where the fireworks are lit and not picking up used fireworks or sparklers from the ground.
In the days leading up to the event, do lots of physical activities with your child particularly physical exercise that involves resistance activities. Here are some suggestions for heavy work activities.
During the Fireworks
Plan where to watch the fireworks from, especially if you think your child will be distressed by the loud bangs and screeching noises. This could be from a window inside your home, from a distant vantage point or from the security of the car. All these ideas will help to muffle the sound of the fireworks.
If your child finds deep pressure touch regulating, they may find it comforting to wear a layer of tight clothes next to the skin; for example, a tight thermal vest, exercise leggings or compression stockings. They may find it calming to carry a weighted backpack too.
Take a sensory kit packed with favourite, comforting fidgets and sensory toys, a special blanket and drinks and snacks - these will help to reduce the focus on the noise of the fireworks.
If your child can tolerate ear defenders, wearing these (or ear muffs, ear plugs or headphones if you don’t have ear defenders) will help to dull the sounds of the event.
Be prepared to leave. If your child becomes overwhelmed, be prepared (and prepare the rest of your family) to calmly leave the situation.
Recognise that a lot of sensory stimulation will be very tiring to your child: be patient if they struggle with their bedtime routine during fireworks season.
Alternatives to Fireworks
You may decide to avoid fireworks all together if your child simply finds them distressing. Make a plan for what you are going to do instead, particularly if there are likely to be local private displays near your home; for example, you could close the curtains and play music or have the tv on.
Search for a televised fireworks display: you can even watch it with the sound off!
Apps that allow your child to create and set off animated fireworks are fun and controlled ways to enjoy the evening celebrations, such as this free one iLoveFireworksLite.
You can replicate some of the sensory experiences associated with fireworks at home using glitter sticks , such as these or by making your own sparkly sensory bottles (tutorial here).
Messy play firework activities are a good way to support tactile sensitivities. This tutorial explains how to make paintbrushes from spaghetti which can them be used to paint firework pictures.
We like this sensory play activity because it can be linked to a fire safety theme: create a bonfire out of shaving foam and coloured powder and then ask your child to extinguish it with a spray bottle of water.
Make a colourful, kinetic display by combining milk, food colouring and soap: tutorial here.
Create colourful, fizzing fireworks with only kitchen cupboard ingredients: tutorial here.
This activity is fun, self-regulating and uses oral motor skills: squeeze blobs of paint onto a large piece of paper and ask your child to use a straw to blow the paint around the paper creating fireworks from the paint.