Fires are the number-one cause of death at home for children
under six. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that
two of every five of those children killed in home fires die in fires
started by themselves or other young children. More than one of every
eight fatal structure fires is started by a child under age 15.
The principal reason most children play with fire is out
of curiosity. Troubled children may act out their anger or frustration
by setting fires. Abused children may cry for help. Older children may
set fires due to peer pressure, or as part of gang activity.
It is normal for young children to express a natural curiosity
about fire, so don't overreact. Don't try to scare children away from
fire. Teach them to respect it - the way you'd teach them to respect traffic
or power tools. Children model older kids' and grown-ups behavior, so
use caution when working with fire and always demonstrate safe use of
your children that fire is dangerous and that matches and lighters are
tools for grown-up use only. Keep matches and lighters up high, out of
sight and children's reach, preferably in a locked cabinet. Never leave
a child alone with an open flame. Older children should be taught to use
fire properly. Have them help you use fire responsibly -blowing out candles
or putting charcoal in a barbecue grill - before you teach them to handle
matches. If older children find matches or lighters, teach them to bring
them to an adult so a younger child can't get them.
For some children, setting fires deliberately is a response
to situational or emotional problems. Fire setting may be a cry for help
from a child trapped in an intolerable situation of abuse. It may be a
way of asserting power when events, or personal limitations, seem to underscore
the child's powerlessness over things that matter. Most fire setters are
male, and the peak age for fire setters who are not motivated by natural
curiosity is the early teens (13-14 years old).
Are upset by a major change in family life (a death, move,
or divorce) or Feel alienated due to a learning disability or other source
of chronic failure or Come from an abusive household. These children need
help. Their fire setting is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself,
but it must be stopped. And it takes community support to stop it. Crisis
fire setting is often an educational/developmental problem, often a mental
health problem, often a social-services problem, and always a criminal
justice problem and child-rearing problem. Anyone with responsibility
for some aspect of children's behavior may be first to see signs of fire
setting, and any such person may be part of the solution for a fire setter.
If your child demonstrates a chronic or exaggerated interest
in fire, or plays with matches or lighters and won't stop, counseling
may help. Parents who suspect, or find evidence, that their child is setting
even small fires should be direct about the fact that fires can kill.
They should also address any crisis that may be behind the behavior, listen
carefully when the child describes his or her feelings, and get professional
Many schools and fire departments offer programs to help
children who play with fire or set fires. Contact your local fire department
or school counselor for details. Social-service and related agencies may
have relevent programs, depending on the problems that motivate a particular
crisis fire setter.
Set a good example for children by following basic fire
safety practices in your home. Talk openly about all aspects of fire safety
with children, beginning at a young age. Teach older children to use fire
responsibly, and to bring found matches or lighters Keep matches and lighters
up high out of children's sight and reach - preferably in a locked cabinet.
Store flammable liquids properly and away from children. Keep your property
clear of convenient fuels for arsonists, such as brush and rubbish. Never
leave young children alone with an open flame. If you suspect your child
is overly curious about fire or setting fires, get help immediately.
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