Teaching Kids that Fire is a Tool, Not a Toy

Earlier this week I came across the staggering statistic that children playing with fire caused 14,500 structure fires in 2006 alone. These fires caused an estimated 130 civilian deaths, 810 civilian injuries and $328 million in property damage. What’s worse is that 63% of all victims of fires started by playing are children themselves. You’re not always around to police them, or protect them from harm’s way, so the best course of action to deal with children and fire is to educate your children about fire safety while setting a good example yourself.

Children from pre-K to high school age have been known to play with fire. Follow these tips to show your children that fire is a tool, not a toy:

1.) Demonstrate Respect for Fire – When dealing with fire, use safety precautions and tell your child why you are doing so. Never use fire, lighters, matches, heaters or stove eyes to amuse or entertain children. Whether your treat the risks of fire respectfully or flippantly, expect your child to follow your example.

2.) Take Away the Temptation – Store matches, lighters and other fire starters in a locked cabinet or out of reach. Only use lighters with child-resistant features.

3.) Teach Young Children to Report Lighters or Matches – In the hands of children, fires can be just as dangerous as a gun or a wild animal. Stress to children that they should report any lighters or matches they see lying around.

4.) Stop, Drop and Roll – Children may set their clothing on fire by getting too close to a heat source. Be sure to practice the drill “Stop, Drop, and Roll” with them in case of such an accident.

5.) Practice your Household Fire Drill – It’s important for everyone in your household to know which route to take to escape from a fire and where to meet up afterward. Children, especially if they started the fire are prone to hiding under a bed or in a closet when they have started a fire. Be sure to stress to them that no matter the cause of the fire, getting out of a burning house is the safe thing to do.

6.) Talk About Fire Safety – Many children will express curiosity about fire or even play with fire. If this occurs, do not overreact, as that might increase the child’s urge to act out. Instead, speak firmly but calmly with them and explain that fire is not a toy.

7.) Never Allow Children to Use Appliances Unattended – Unintentional fires have been started when children attempt to cook or operate a heater. Supervise children when using dangerous appliances.

8.) Curb the Signs of Intentional Fire Starting – If your child is intentionally setting fires or shows a fascination with fires, get counseling. Your local fire department and the child’s school are both excellent sources to find counselors trained in getting to the bottom of fire starting behavior.

It is natural for children to be curious about fire, but with your help and good example they will learn to respect fire’s uses, and its dangers.