Between 2005 and 2009, approximately 56,300 fires year were set each year by children, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Although curiosity about fire is common in children, setting fires is abnormal behavior and can lead to loss of property, serious injury and death. Children who set fires often have a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, come from troubled homes, or are seeking excitement or attention. Setting fires might also be their way of acting out emotions, such as anger, anxiety or fear. Parental responsibilities include education, prevention and obtaining professional treatment, when necessary.
In many homes, matches and lighters are many places, including kitchen drawers, nightstands, and stuffed inside coat pockets and purses. To avoid tempting your child, get rid of excessive amounts of matches and lighters. Keep only what you need and store them out of your child's reach such as a locked cabinet or drawer. If you keep flammable liquids in your home such as charcoal lighter fluid move them to the garage or another locked storage location. All rooms should have working smoke detectors, including your child's bedroom. Keep at least one fire extinguisher on each floor.
Many children don't fully understand the dangers of fire. Rather than using fear to scare your child into not playing with matches, teach him to respect fire, recommends the U.S. Army Directorate of Emergency Services. Stress that fire is a tool used by responsible adults to cook food and warm homes -- it's never a toy for children to play with. To further help him realize the danger, explain that even small fires can spread quickly and cause severe burns, destruction of homes and death. Forbid him from touching any matches or lighters and if he finds some, tell him he should immediately bring them to you. When he does, always thank and praise him.
Be a Role Model
Children mimic their parents' behavior. If you smoke, your child might believe it looks like fun, especially the "lighting up" part. He might believe matches and lighters are toys and can't wait to get his hands on them. Set an example by enforcing a no-smoking rule in your home. Monitor your child when guests are over. He might try searching inside purses and coat pockets to find matches. Although candles can be attractive, don't use them around your child.
Seek Professional Help
Don't dismiss your child's fire-setting as just a passing phase in his growth. If he continues to light fires, it's important to seek immediate treatment by a psychiatrist, licensed psychologist or counselor. Early intervention can help prevent future tragedies, according to the Burn Institute. Call your fire department and ask whether they offer counseling programs for children. If not, they might know of a treatment center or at least be willing to have a talk with your child. Contact the Burn Institute’s Juvenile Firesetter Program -- they work with children to provide information on fire prevention, counseling and education.
- The Wall Street Journal: Probing a Mystery: Why Do Children Keep Starting Fires?
- U.S. Army Directorate of Emergency Services: Children Setting Fires
- City of Chilliwack: Children & Fire: What Do You Need to Know?
- Lockport Township Fire Prevention District: Fire Play? or Fire Setting?
- National Fire Protection Association: Children Playing With Fire