Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Make the Fourth Fun!

As I prepared for my July podcast with Parenting Roundabout that will go live this morning, I thought I would share my Fourth of July pointers with you all.  As exciting as this day can be for some, it can be equally as stressful and scary for children, especially those with sensory processing difficulties.  For some of the children I work with, they have a heightened sense of sound.  What sounds pleasant to you and I can sound horrifying for them and make a fun event (watching fireworks, going to a picnic, etc.) an incredibly difficult experience for them.  And we all know that a difficult experience for a child means that those around them may have an equally negative experience.

There are so many things that can go right on this fun summer holiday.  There are a ton of opportunities to hang out with friends and family....go to the beach or the parks and have picnics, go to Fourth of July town parades and of course, watching fireworks.  All of that sounds fabulous, right?  Well, if you have a child who has sensory processing difficulties, it can be as stressful as fun.  For example, those parades can be lots of fun but the unexpected noises and large crowds of people getting in your space can be a disaster.  Same thing with the fun beach or picnic event you attend each year.  The sand or the grass may cause your sensory defensive child to not want to get off the blanket or out of their strollers.  Or maybe it is too sunny or their is loud music playing close-by or the water just splashed them and got them wet.  And where do we start with the fireworks?  To most people, the fireworks are a thing of excitement and beauty but for those defensive kids, it can be a scary, scary thing between the loud noises and the crazy bright and flashing lights.  

For some families, avoiding these kinds of events are the easiest solution.  However, that is not a realistic solution and could mean that several other family members who were really looking forward to these special things will lose out on the fun.  I am going to provide a few strategies below that might help this Fourth of July weekend go smoother and be fun for everyone.  

Plan Ahead-if you know that you will be attending an event that might be difficult for your child, be sure to plan ahead and problem solve.  For example, talk to your child about what to expect, the schedule of events, who they might see and what might happen that might be hard for them.  Some things you can do are:
*take your child on a quick visit to the destination before the event.  Spot out a quiet/safe spot for them to go to in the case of an emergency.  Let them know that even if they are scared, there will be a place you can go to together to get calm and away from all the action.  
*get to your destination early before the crowds arrive.  Get your child comfortable and make a game of watching all the people arriving.  Maybe play a game of I Spy and talk about all of the different Fourth of July things you can see while you wait for the action to start.  
*if you are going to a party at a friends house, be sure to not only arrive early but to talk to the host with your child and tell them that there is a chance you may need to sneak out for a bit and take a break from the festivities.  Ask them if they have a special spot close-by that they sneak out to to get some quiet time.  Rest assured that if you have been invited to a friend's house and they know your child has some sensory difficulties, they will be more than happy to help you and your child have the best experience possible.  
*watch a fireworks display online before watching them live.  Talk to them about what was exciting and what was scary and what you can do in order to make watching fireworks a fun experience for them.  

Have A Bag of Tricks-it's times like this that you want to be sure to have a bag filled with tricks/supplies in order to make this a great holiday for your whole family.  
*if you have a child who is afraid of loud noises, bring along a pair of noise-canceling headphones.  Your child may really love the looks of fireworks, but the loud and unpredictable noises may be too much for them.  Be sure to test these out before going to a fireworks display. It's never a good idea to try something out prior to an event to find out your kid hates the way they feel.  If you really want to get festive, find some stickers to cover the headphones!  This can make your child who might be resistant to wearing them more likely to put them on. 
*bring your child's favorite lovie or stuffed animal to an event so they know they have a friend and source of comfort during a scary moment.  
*pack a bottle of bubbles.  Whether you are at a crowded park or parade, bubbles will make things better.  Blowing bubbles encourages kids to take deep breathes which helps to calm and organize themselves.  The best thing about bubbles, especially in a crowd of people, is that they will just add to the fun of the event.  
*pack a pair of sunglasses to dim the excitement of the holiday.  Maybe your kids don't mind the loud noises but the fast and flashing lights may become too much for them.  There are so many good child-sized sunglasses  to choose from so make sure you take your kids to try them on and find the ones that they are most comfortable in. 
*bring your child's favorite snacks/comfort food.  As a grownup, I have my special foods that I keep in my bag for those stressful moments in life.  Kids can be easily comforted by their favorite foods so be sure to have them in hand (and plenty of them) during times that may be more stressful for them.  Chewy foods, such as gummy snacks and dried fruits, are highly recommended as they provide a lot of sensory input.  
*if your child is of stroller age, be sure to bring it with you to these events.  It can be a place of comfort for your child.  I remember going to concerts in Prospect Park with our daughter...she loved the music but would often pull down the top of her stroller and chill out in her little cocoon of a space to listen to the music.  For older children, you can bring their favorite reading or activity books and let them chill out in there while all of the excitement is taking place. 
*for family/friend parties, bring a bag of activity books and coloring instruments.  Not only is this a very calming and organizing activity, it is one that can encourage socialization and conversation with other children at the event.

While I love the Fourth of July and all the things that go along with it, I know from a professional standpoint, that it can bring out lots of sensory behaviors.  It's important to recognize if the behaviors you are seeing from your child are coming from sensory overload or if they are just being poorly behaved.  I hope that some of my strategies will be helpful for you and your littles this holiday weekend.   I would love to hear from any of you about some of your "tricks" that you use for your children when they become overstimulated and overexcited.  I am sure that if they help your child, they will help other parents and children have a happier and less stressful time.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July! 

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