Fire Safety Tips for Parents of Preschoolers
July is the number one month for fires set by kids. Did you know this? I didn’t, but it makes sense. Fireworks and sparklers used to celebrate the Fourth make fire seem fun and pique curiosity, and on top of that, grilling outside means lighters and matches may be more accessible.
Did you know that preschoolers and kindergartners are not only the most likely age group to start fires but also the most likely to die in them? That’s scary stuff – especially if, like me, you are the parent of a little.
So while National Fire Prevention Month isn’t until October, and house fires are most likely during the winter months, summer is a good time to talk about how we, as parents, can prevent our children from playing with fire.
Fire safety is about more than smoke detectors and practicing escape routes, although those are certainly necessary.
Let’s start off with some facts. I’m going to share some numbers with you, not to freak you out, but because informed parents can be empowered parents, and I believe that most parents, if they understand the risks, will do what they can to keep their kids safe.
Did you know —
- Each year, there are nearly 50,000 fires that result from children playing with fire. Fifty thousand. And those are just the fires that get reported to local fire departments. And 7,000 house fires per year are caused by children playing with fire.
- Many of these fires are causes by children under age 6. Why? Well, they are more likely to play with matches or a lighter inside the house, whereas older kids are more likely to do so outside. Oftentimes a fire starts in a bedroom where a mattress or bedding is set on fire. And because young children don’t grasp the dangers, they may hide or leave the room, which means the fire has time to grow before it is discovered.
- One of the leading causes of fire-related death and injury for children under age 9 is playing with fire.
- Fires spread incredibly quickly. If you wonder how fast, check out this video that shows a wastebasket fire consuming a room within a few minutes. Now imagine that a child accidentally set that fire, freaked out, and ran off to do something else so he wouldn’t get in trouble….leaving the fire to burn.
Why are young children at higher risk?
Little ones are naturally curious about the world around them. If they have access to lighters or candles, they may want to try them out or play grown-up. It is rare that a preschooler’s fire-play is related to some type of psychological issue. Mostly it comes down to curiosity and opportunity (access to lighters and being unsupervised).
Little kids’ knowledge of fire is limited, and they often don’t understand the danger involved. For this reason, kids may experiment and, if they do start a fire, not comprehend the damage it can do. They may not know how critical it is to get help, they may be afraid they will get in trouble, and they probably don’t know how to safely extinguish or get away from a fire. It isn’t uncommon for young children to hide when there is a fire, putting them at increased risk.
How to teach young children fire safety
I’m not a fire safety expert by any means. The tips below are gathered from various fire-related websites and resources, as well as some trainings that I attended.
- Set clear messages. Don’t play with fire around kids or use fire as “entertainment.” Teach respect for fire by talking about its function – warmth, safety – as well as how it is something that must be used with care. Talk about matches/lighters as tools that are only for grown-ups to use – just like a knife or saw – and stick to this rule; don’t let young kids experiment with lighting matches or handle fire-setting tools, even if you are supervising.
- Teach your child that if he sees matches or a lighter, he should not touch it and should tell a grown-up right away, just as you would with a gun. I’ll admit I’ve “slipped” and left a lighter on the kitchen counter while we’re grilling. When my son points it out, I give him lots of praise for remembering this “safety rule” and telling me.
- Talk about how quickly fire can spread and, in age-appropriate terms, the damage it can do. Emphasize how important it is that kids run to tell an adult if they see fire.
What else can you do?
- Limit access! This is so, so important. Don’t rely on a young child’s judgment to be what keeps him/her safe. (Same goes for guns. I cringe every time I hear a parent say, “Well, no, our guns aren’t locked…but our kids know not to touch them.”)
Matches and lighters are the number one ways that kids play with fire. They should be kept out of reach. Your best bet is not to have matches in the home at all and store child-resistant lighters away from children. If you have smokers in your home or who visit often, pay special attention to lighters kept in purses, pants pockets, and other places that kids can get to.
Also, don’t burn candles. If you must, keep them high up and only burn them under your supervision. That means if you leave the room, the flame should be extinguished. If you like using scented wax melts (“tarts”), opt for an electric warmer instead of a one with a flame.
- Have a fire extinguisher in your home, just in case.
- Make sure there are smoke detectors in your home and that they are working. In 60 percent of cases where someone died in a house fire, there was either no smoke detector, or it wasn’t working. We check our detectors when we turn the clocks back or forward — it is an easy way to remember and ensures we check them regularly. Have a smoke detector in every bedroom, outside of sleeping areas (e.g., the hallway), in each living space, and on each floor of your home.
- Have a fire escape plan in your home. Children learn best by doing, so practice your plan several times and periodically run through it again, but also remember that young children will likely need an adult to help them get out of the home.
The U.S. Fire Administration has some fabulous materials for parents of young children. I especially like their brochure.
My boys, at 4 and 7, are curious about fire. On summer evenings we often build a fire in our backyard, which raises all kinds of interest in what they can/can’t throw in the fire, among other things. Rather than not enjoy a campfire, we use this as an opportunity to practice staying safe around fire and talk about some of the messages above — fire isn’t a toy (so no, you can’t throw plastic food wrappers in it just to see what happens), but fire does keep us warm, provide a way of cooking (s’mores!), and is pretty to look at.
CONTINUE READING IN THE FAMILY ROOM
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