What kinds of things do we need to know about children and fire?
- As soon as children are old enough to understand, parents need to teach them about the dangers of fire and of the matches and lighters that make fire. Small children have a strong fascination with danger because they simply don't understand what can happen, and, because they're curious. Unfortunately, it only takes seconds for a little one to slip out of sight and into big trouble!
- Children should be taught that matches and lighters ARE tools that can be used by adults in helpful ways. They should also learn that matches and lighters are NOT toys and, therefore, they should never ever play with them.
- Most children know that it's adults' responsibilities to keep matches and lighters out of the "strike zone" - wherever little children can get their hands on them. However, they should ALSO know that, if they DO find matches and lighters somewhere, they should take them to the nearest adult right away. They should understand that, by doing this, they are also helping to keep these dangerous items out of the hands of other little children who may not yet know or understand the dangers they represent.
- The concepts of "hot," and "burn" must be explained to little children in ways that can help them to understand the dangers of playing with or playing around things that are hot. Also, it's never too early to learn "cool a burn." If someone gets a small burn, it should be placed in cool water for at least 15 minutes. Ice, butter, grease, oils or ointments cannot stop the damage that continues below the skin surface; however, cool water can.
- As children grow older, they should be presented with these additional concepts as they are able to comprehend them:
- Setting fires is against the law; and, if one chooses to break the law, he/she will be held accountable by the law. Children must be able to understand that firesetting is a choice that they make. And, as in other areas, they must face the consequences of making the wrong choice.
- If a child causes a fire in which there are property damages, his/her parents will be responsible for those damages until the child becomes 18. If the damages ar not paid off by the time the child turns 18, then the Court can attach his/her wages until the debt is satisfied. If someone is injured or killed in a fire caused by the child, the size of the debt owed by that child and his/her parents will mushroom into the millions rather than thousands of dollars!
- If a child is merely with other children who set fires, then that child is considered just as guilty as those who set the fires because he/she did not do the right thing and run and tell an adult what was happening right away so the adult could have stopped it.
- Punishment for breaking the law, in addition to paying for personal and property damages, may involve going to jail, probation, and performing community service or any combination of these.
- Children must understand that there are many other consequences of setting fires, which include: losing the trust of their parents and siblings; getting a "bad rep" among school-mates and teachers; setting a bad example for younger children; losing friendships because parents don't want their children playing with other children who set fires or play with fire; getting a "record;" risking injury or even death if they catch their clothing on fire; burns are among the most painful injuries a human can suffer and, besides sometimes being fatal, their medical treatment is excruciatingly painful, of long term duration, and horribly disfiguring-as well as severely incapacitating.
What should we do if we find out that our children have been playing with fire?
While fire play or curiosity fire-setting is not uncommon among children, especially boys, between the ages of about three and eight or nine years, it is neither acceptable nor lawful and should, under no circumstances, be allowed to continue. And, it is up to the parent(s) to decide what actions are appropriate to ensure that this type of destructive behavior does not continue.
What resources do we have available to us in the community to help us deal with a child with firesetting problems?
The Fire Department provides a one-time disciplinary education session for first-time child firesetters and their parent(s). The Garden Grove Unified School District and other local school districts can provide parents with referrals of local child and family practice therapists and counselors as can the Police Department's juvenile officers. The Orange County Burn Association can also recommend some excellent local psychologists and therapists who specialize in juvenile firesetting, as well.