Many children set fires out of curiosity. But some of the children will learn that fire is a powerful tool to gain attention or enact revenge. Other children believe that if their first fire doesn't get out of control, they can control it.
Fire Setting Categories
Most experts agree that the best way to understand a child's fire setting is by looking at the age of the child and the reason for the behavior. There are three categories of fire setting, and for each a different strategy is used to stop the behavior.
Curiosity Fire Setting
The child is usually between 3 and 10 years old and is almost always a boy. They prefer to spend time alone and may be hyperactive.
The child is curious and plays with fire to learn about it. Fires are usually set in a closet or under a bed. The child will usually panic if the fire gets out of control. Fires set can cause major damage or even death.
Treatment at this stage is fire safety education.
Problem Fire Setting
The child is usually between 5 and 12 years old and is almost always a boy. They may have a history of school and social problems. Recent changes in life or suffering from stress or injury are common.
The fire is usually random or ritualized and located in or around the home.
There is often no clear cut reason for fire setting. This could be used as a "Cry for Help."
They will continue in this behavior until stress is relieved or they are taught safer ways to cope. There is a very high chance of repeat fire setting.
Treatment at this stage involves professional counseling and fire safety education.
Delinquent Fire Setting
The child is usually between the ages of 10 and 18 years old. They can be both boys and girls and are almost always in a group.
The fire is usually at an outdoor location and could involve dumpsters, grass or other vandalism type fires.
The child tends sets the fires to impress their peers, out of boredom, or to be defiant.
Treatment at this stage involves professional counseling, restitution and fire safety education.
How Parents Can Help
Parents play an important role in helping prevent fires involving children. Here are some ideas to help:
Keep Matches, lighters and other fire setting tools off limits to your children by telling your children to immediately bring you any matches or lighters that they find. Set consequences for children if they are found with any fire setting tools.
Encourage your children to tell you about any other children playing with fire.
Make your house fire safe by installing smoke detectors and sharing with your children the responsibility of checking the detectors once a month.
Keep all matches or lighters in a place that is not accessible to children, such as a locked cabinet. If you smoke, keep lighters on your person or in your purse, not scattered around the house.
Lock up all flammable chemicals, like gasoline, turpentine or lighter fluid.
Teach your children fire safety by planning fire escape routes from each room in the house and practicing fire drills at your house once a semester.
Practice with your children stop-drop-and roll and crawling low in the presence of smoke.
Discuss with your children the good and bad uses of fire, the dangers of fire and how quickly it spreads.
Make sure your children are supervised at all times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal for children to play with fire?
While curiosity about fire is common, fire play or fire setting is not normal and can be deadly.
Is fire setting considered pyromania?
Pyromania is a mental disorder, fire setting is not. It is a behavior which can have many reasons and which can be stopped.
Who do I call if I suspect a juvenile of fire setting?
If you suspect a child playing with fire, contact the Worcester County Fire Marshal's Office immediately at 410-632-5666. Provide us with as much information as you can about the child and their location. Remember, you can remain anonymous.
My child needs help, who do I call?
If your child needs help overcoming fire setting, Worcester County has a Juvenile Fire Setter's Program designed to assist this problem. To sign up for the program you can contact the Worcester County Fire Marshal's Office at 410-632-5666 or the Worcester County Health Department at 410-632-1100.
I have found my child playing with fire. If I burn my child's hand will they stop?
This is a myth, if you burn your child's hand they will just be scarred. You must address the real reason for his/her playing with fire before they will stop.
Is this just a phase that that they will grow out of?
It is not just a phase and you must deal with it immediately or it will continue to happen.