Sunday, July 03, 2005

Choose your holiday events carefully!

It's a big holiday weekend in the United States as we celebrate our country's birthday. Families around the country will be heading off to parties or larger festivals, and many will be enjoying fireworks over the next few days. The traditional celebration is exciting, noisy, and colorful, and everyone enjoys a good show of fireworks. Well, nearly everyone. Your baby or young child may be on the short list of people who'd really rather not witness fireworks, particularly close at hand.

It's easy to assume that little ones will either enjoy fireworks displays or at least will ignore them. We parents sort of forget that the babies don't quite understand the world or perceive it in the same ways that we do. To us, fireworks are colorful and exciting. We oooh and ahhhh right along with the rest of the audience, and give a little jump when those loud booms follow seconds after we see the bright lights. It's a great tradition for the Fourth and other celebrations, and most of us have some traditions that we want to honor each year. Heading off to the fireworks or setting off a few fireworks are activities high on the list.

But take a look from your baby's point of view. Your little one has no idea that we're celebrating. He or she may not even be old enough to understand when you say, "Now there's going to be a loud boom! Cover your ears!" From baby's point of view, fireworks traditions are strange at best, and downright scary for most. Some little ones must think that the world is coming to an end. I believe that people are sort of hard wired to perceive flashing lights and loud booms as threatening situations. When we're grown and can think and reason, we can talk ourselves out of this fear, but babies don't have that ability. There have been many, many years at the town fireworks display that I have seen and heard little ones screaming in distress when the commotion started. Frustrated or disgusted parents try frantically to calm the child, to distract him, or convince her that the fireworks really aren't going to hurt. It's a lost cause in most cases. Even toddlers who normally can understand and talk a bit can be so frightened and upset that no amount of reasoning can get through at the time. What was intended to be a great outing full of family fun turns into a disaster.

It's quite possible that your baby doesn't belong anywhere near a fireworks display. You know your little one best, but consider how he or she has acted when exposed to other loud noises. Some children are quite a bit more sensitive to that sort of thing than others. If you *do* decide to take baby with you, make sure that you can beat a hasty retreat or at least go in the car to escape the noise if necessary. And don't be surprised if your youngster who was just fine with the fireworks last summer suddenly develops a strong fear of them. Little ones go through a number of developmental changes during their first five years or so, and sometimes events that were previously ignored become major sources of trauma.

I can't help but remember my oldest daughter's first experience with fireworks shortly after her first birthday. She sat in the grandstand at the county fair grounds and together we anticipated the bright colors and lights. I warned her that some would be loud but that she would be safe and could put her hands over her ears if she wanted to. When the display started, she was absolutely terrified in spite of all of our discussions. I remember cradling her in my arms for that very long thirty minute display and sort of rocking while covering her ears. Whenever anyone mentioned fireworks for a few months after that, her eyes would go wide and she would intone, "Fireworks! Boom, boom, BOOM!" It certainly was not the happy experience that I had envisioned for her.

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