Every summer, parents ask me what fireworks are safe to use around small children. The unfortunate truth is that none of them are safe for small children. Not even sparklers, they ask? My answer has to be: No, not even sparklers.
Sparklers are dangerous. They can burn at 1,100-1,800 degrees. They are a major cause of hand and finger injuries in children. Not only is the person holding the sparkler at risk, but also anyone standing nearby. In the past, they have also been a significant cause of foot burns, as children drop their sparkler or step on one that is still hot.
Don't get me wrong. I love the Fourth of July. It is one of my favorite holidays. It is celebrated with foods I can promote: grilled steaks or chicken, served with fruits and vegetables (corn on the cob, watermelon, berries). I just want everyone to be safe while they party. Yes, party! Have a good time. Just, please, do it without endangering yourself or others.
Start by dressing yourself and your children appropriately. I think we all know that a barefoot toddler in a tutu is a bad idea. I recommend against bare feet and against open-toed shoes. Loose fitting clothing is also not recommended. Girls, pass on the sundress, even if you are watching from afar. A cute pair of shorts and a lightweight shirt are much safer. It's hot outside, so tie your hair back. It's safer and cooler.
Secondly, think about the fireworks you are going to buy. To make this decision, you need to know who is coming to your shindig. Are all of your friends college age? Will there be small children in attendance? How about older children that will want to help light the fireworks? Depending upon the laws in your area, you may be responsible for the safety of all of them. Buy only consumer fireworks and not commercial grade. I've already discussed the concerns about sparklers. It is much harder to find information about smoke bombs, but let me say this. You are causing chemicals and smoke to be released into the air where they will get inhaled. I don't think there have been any long term studies on the safety of these inhalants. If you know otherwise, please contact me. Firecrackers and bottle rockets should never be held in the hand or aimed at another person. Always light fireworks with a punk, not a match or a cigarette lighter. Supervision is a must, sometimes even with college students. (Sometimes especially with college students).
There are other options for small children. There are plenty of activities that will make them happy, such as squirt gun fights and bicycle or tricycle parades. Older children, as well as adults, can participate in bean bag tosses and three-legged races. If that's not exciting enough, try aerosol string fights. These can be done with teams or as a free-for-all. For squirt gun fights and aerosol string fights, be sure participants don't run near a grill or firepit. You can also get faux fireworks that are filled with confetti. They're fun when you pop them and generally safe for little ones (with supervision). Cleanup is best handled as a contest for whomever picks up the most bits of paper.
Of course, the day isn't over without some really big fireworks display. I suggest attending a commercial display. You can attend in person, watch from a friend's house nearby, or watch on television. It doesn't matter to me. I just don't feel that the Fourth of July is complete without at least one such show.
Remember the following things: 1) dress appropriately, 2) choose your fireworks with your audience and participants in mind, 3) plan other activities, because no fireworks are safe around small children. Lastly, enjoy good food, family, friends and a commercial fireworks display.
Dr Nan N