“Can you address children’s anxiety and Guy Fawkes Day?”
Until this question, sent to me from a CAC reader in the UK, I had never heard of Guy Fawkes Day.
Never heard the refrain, “Remember, remember the fifth of November.”
But after doing a bit of research on this celebration, also called Bonfire Night, I can see how any children, and especially those with anxiety and autism spectrum disorders, might struggle with fear on this loud and festive night.
Bonfire Night involves parades, bonfires, and fireworks. After they have been carried through the streets, straw effigies of the failed conspirators of the foiled Gunpowder Plot are tossed into the bonfire.
My UK readers can correct me if I am wrong, but from what I have learned, Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Day, involves several things that can be disconcerting to an anxious child: darkness, loud booms from fireworks and flashes of light.
Here in the states, my family attends an Independence Day concert which involves the playing of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture. The piece concludes with a cacophony of drums and cannons. I have seen many unprepared children blocking their ears, frightened by the startling sounds.
And Halloween, which we just celebrated in the United States on October 31st, has many of the same components that are scary for children.
So for my readers in the UK, here are some ideas to make this celebration easier for your anxious child.
How to Help an Anxious Child with Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night
1. Talk to Your Child, Then Listen.
Explain, in ways your child can understand, what the celebration is about, what they can expect in the days leading up to the event.
Tell them they may hear loud noises, and see fireworks.
Let them know that they are safe, but that things will be different.
After you talk to your child, listen.
Listen to their fears, concerns, and come up with ways to address them.
2. Write a Social Story.
Social stories, as I’ve discussed before, are great ways to help children prepare for things that are scary for them. In the days or hours leading up to Bonfire Night, help your child write a positive social story about what they may experience.
Here’s a sample text to get you started:
“Tonight is Bonfire Night. I might hear loud noises that startle me. I might hear fireworks. I can make a plan to be relaxed and calm. I can read soothing stories. I can listen to soft music. I can do guided meditations and other things that relax me. I can cuddle my favorite teddy. This is just one night, and then things will get back to normal. I can turn to my mom or dad or caregiver and they will help me if I am afraid.”
3. Plan a Calming Bedtime Routine.
This is a night that it might be helpful to put your child to bed earlier, so that they can be asleep before the fireworks begin.
Soothing bedtime routines might include:
A warm bath with aromatherapy oils or lavender bubbles.
Using relaxation music to calm your child as they get ready for bed and during story time.
Reading a soothing story (or two or three) in a cozy chair under a soft or weighted blanket.
Use a heating pad or weighted lap pad or blanket to offer soothing warm and weight to ease anxiety.
Place a few drops of lavender or citrus essential oils on your child’s pillowcase or comfort item (teddy, blanket), if your child likes aromatherapy. (This isn’t the time to try a new scent or technique. If you haven’t used aromatherapy before, don’t start tonight.)
Guide your child through progressive muscle relaxation when you put them to bed.
Pray. Whatever your faith. If cuddling with a prayer shawl, palm cross, or prayer beads is calming, let your child fall asleep with them by his side.
4. Use White Noise Machines or Soothing Music.
In the CAC Resource page, I share my favorite resources to comfort an anxious child. Playing relaxation music on a small speaker in your child’s bedroom, or using a white noise machine all through the night, may help mask the sounds of fireworks and put your child in a more relaxed state.
5. Wear Noise Cancelling Headphones.
If your child can’t sleep, or wakes up afraid, having them use noise cancelling headphones while you are comforting them, will also help mask the noise. I used noise cancelling headphones with many of my students to help them with fire drills and assemblies and other loud events at school.
6. Offer Comfort Items.
Also in the CAC Resource page, using teddy bears, blankets, favorite dolls or other stuffed animals gives your child something to hold on to…so important when children are anxious.
7. Watch Storyline Online.
This great website (also on the CAC Resource page) has wonderful YouTube videos of children’s books, read by actors, with enhanced illustrations and background music. It will help distract your child from fear if you can’t get them to go back to sleep until the festivities have settled down.
For more tips read my post How to Make Halloween Happier for Children with Anxiety, Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders.
And check out the Resource page, for more tips on helping your child find peace for Mind, Body and Spirit.
Wishing my UK readers a safe, festive, and peaceful Guy Fawkes Day,