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Playing with Fire — Good Parenting


Dear Dr. Debbie,

We had a close call with our eight-year-old son that could have ended tragically. It seems he and a friend were challenging each other to try to start a fire with a water bottle. Someone at school had seen it on YouTube. So they took supplies to the backyard to test it out. Fortunately they only got a scorch mark on the paper and gave up. They left the evidence behind which resulted in their mutual confession – after not too much questioning on my part because they were kind of proud of it.

How can I impress these daredevils with the dangers of playing with fire?

No Third Degree



ThinkstockPhotos 526977445

Don’t miss last week’s column Preschool Rift — Good Parenting

Dear NTD,

Fire safety is a serious matter. You might want to include the parents of your son’s friend in your plans to teach the children how to prevent fires and how to react in a fire emergency.

Fire safety education is particularly suitable for eight-year-olds. They may seem like they are mature enough to be on their own, however, when there’s no adult around a friend’s crazy idea sounds like a good one.

Use YouTube to spark a conversation about fire safety. The folks at Fire and Emergency Services of Brampton City, Ontario  want kids to follow some basic safety guidelines including:

  • Don’t play with matches (or anything purported to be able to start a fire). If you find a matchbook, lighter, or hear about a cool new way to start a fire, alert an adult.
  • Heed the signal of a smoke alarm, fire alarm, or carbon monoxide alarm. Parents should test these alarms regularly so everyone knows the sound and what to do.
  • Know your family’s escape plan – and all the exits out of a friend’s home as well. Know the designated meeting place outside where the firefighters are sure to see everyone.
  • In case of fire, get low and go. Smoke rises – and makes it hard to breathe. So practice crawling your way out of two or more exits.
  • 9-1-1 is to summon help for emergencies such as fire, police or ambulance. You can practice – without actually dialing – to give your address and phone number. Stay on the line until help arrives. Name at least 2 neighbors your child can go to for making an emergency call.
  • A minor burn, including sunburn or the hot metal of playground equipment, can be instantly soothed with cold water. Put this effective remedy into practice around the kitchen.
  • If you stop, drop, and roll, you can put out a flame that’s on your clothing. Running only fuels the fire. You need to smother it.
  • Firefighters are your friends. The gear they wear to save people’s lives – and protect themselves – looks ominous. Take a visit to a firehouse to become familiar with your local rescue workers and their potentially intimidating outfits.

Continue to keep the conversation going about preventing, preparing for, and reacting to a fire emergency. This is a “hot” issue for this stage of childhood in which adult supervision often seem unnecessary.

“We just wanted to see what it would do,” a remorseful child might admit after a fire gets out of hand. “We were always able to put out the fires before,” my son’s friend told me after their fun turned to fright. Fortunately, my husband happened upon the two boys madly trying to stomp out flaming two-by-fours in front of our new house under construction. The new house was just a few blocks from our old house—within his privileged area—and checking on its progress was something we all enjoyed. Good thing for the boys that Daddy decided to stop by on his way home from work that day. Bicycle privileges, however, were curbed as a result of the dangerous behavior.

I’ve heard accounts of other 8-year-olds’ experimentations with fire. My cousin’s son was with his friend in the woods behind the house when his father smelled smoke while walking the dog. My neighbor’s 8-year-old brother knew he didn’t want to get caught playing with the matches he had found, so he ended up burning some of the clothes in her closet. In fact, this errant behavior is mentioned in the movie “Back to the Future” when Marty leaves his parents at their high school dance to return to the present, and he suggests “If you guys ever have kids, and one of them when he’s 8-years-old accidentally sets fire to the living room rug, go easy on him.”

Use this incident as a teachable moment to impart vital safety lessons.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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