For parents, the dangers of fire are so apparent that the sight of a child anywhere
near a flame is enough to send them scrambling. And fortunately, most kids are wary
of fire and understand that it can hurt them and others.
But it's not unusual for kids to be curious about fire, too. After all, we enjoy
campfires and singing over birthday candles. That's why it's so important to
educate kids about the dangers of fire and to keep them away from matches, lighters,
and other fire-starting tools.
Even with the best efforts from parents, kids might play with fire. Most of the
time this can be handled by explaining the dangers and setting clear ground rules
and consequences for not following them.
But sometimes kids seem to be especially preoccupied with fire and repeatedly
attempt to set things on fire, which can be a sign of emotional and behavioral issues
that require professional
Why Kids Set Fires
Young children who set fires usually do so out of curiosity or accidentally while
playing with fire, matches, or lighters, and don't know how dangerous fire can be.
During the preschool years, fire is just another part of the world they're exploring.
Unfortunately, these fires tend to be the most deadly because kids in that age group
don't know how to respond to a fire, and may set it in a small, enclosed space, such
as a closet.
As kids get a little older, they might be fascinated with fire. It's fairly common
for them to do things like light paper with matches, set things on fire using a magnifying
glass, or play with candles or other things that have a flame. That's usually not
a cause for concern.
But if a school-age child deliberately sets fires, even after being reprimanded
or punished, a parent needs to talk to the child and consider getting professional
help. That's especially true if the child is setting fires to larger objects or in
areas where the flames can easily spread and cause injury and damage.
Talk with your doctor or consult a mental health professional if your child exhibits
behaviors such as:
adding more fuel to fires in the fireplace, grill, or campfires, even when told
pocketing matches or hiding fire-starting materials
lighting candles, fireworks, and other things, despite being told not to
Kids might set fires for any number of reasons. They may be angry or looking for
attention. They may be struggling with stressful problems at home, at school, or with
friends. Some set fires as a cry for help because they're being neglected at home
or even abused. Even if they know how dangerous fire can be, they might have other
problems that involve difficulty with impulse control.
Whatever the reason for firesetting, parents need to get to the root of the behavior
and address underlying problems. It's important to consider seeking professional help
as soon as possible to prevent serious damage or injury.
If Your Child Sets a Fire
If you discover your child setting a fire, don't ignore it or assume that your
child won't do it again after being disciplined. Because even one small fire can have
disastrous consequences, it's vital to stop the behavior immediately. Many kids who
set fires do so repeatedly, especially if there is no intervention.
If your child is very young, prevent access to the tools that can start
another fire. Keep matches, lighters, and any other sources of fire safely out of
your child's reach and view.
Talk to your child about how dangerous fire is and how it can hurt your child and
your family. If you haven't established any specific rules about fire, this is a good
time to do so. Explain that, just like other things that are off-limits (like touching
knives or the oven), matches and lighters are things only adults should use.
If your child is beyond the preschool years (around age 5 or older) and is
setting fires, talk with your child's doctor, school counselor, or a mental health
professional. You might also want to contact your local fire department — many
have programs designed to teach kids who have set fires about the dangers and consequences
Preventing Kids From Starting Fire
Keep your house safe. Never leave matches or lighters in a room
where a child spends unsupervised time. If you have preschool-age kids, keep matches
out of sight and locked up. Although many lighters are labeled child-resistant, none
are fully childproof so make sure these are inaccessible too. And never leave a burning
candle and a young child in the same room unattended
Teach kids about fire safety.
Make sure kids understand — from a young age — that even a small fire
can be dangerous and deadly. Keep small children far from the stove (at least 3 feet
away) while it's on and explain why. Teach kids to tell you when they find matches
or lighters or if they see other kids carrying them or playing with fire. Teach them
what to do if their clothes catch fire (stop, drop, and roll) and what to do if there's
a fire in your house.
Set a good example. Use fire only in appropriate ways —
to light candles or as a tool in your grill, camp, wood stove, or fireplace. Never
amuse kids by playing with matches or lighters, or even burning candle wax. Show them
how you always put out fires completely when you are through with them and that you
never leave a fire burning when you're not there.
Don't allow smoking in your home. It's more difficult to keep
lighters and matches away from kids in homes where adults smoke. Children in these
homes also see adults using fire repeatedly throughout the day, which can influence
Parents play an important role in making kids aware of the dangers posed by fire
and establishing ground rules about how to handle it. By keeping matches and lighters
out of reach and staying alert to signs that a child may be playing with fire,
you can help ensure that your entire family stays safe.