For safety's sake, take the mystery out of matches, fire

CHILD LIFE

November 20, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: Our 3-year-old grandson has become curious about cigarette lighters, candles and other fire. We wonder what would be the best way to instill the danger of fire so he won't get into trouble.

Karen Dennis, Phoenix, Ariz.

A: Take a positive approach rather than try to instill fear, parents and fire safety authorities advise. And now is the time to child-proof your home if you haven't already.

Parents who called Child Life say once fire is no longer such a mystery, children tend to lose interest. A mother from Ontario suggests letting the child help light a candle and blow out the flame.

"Stress how carefully he can light and put out the fire," she says. "Praise him for how safety conscious he is."

Once children are about 5 years old, supervise as they strike a whole box of matches in one sitting, says Melvin Holton, the juvenile education officer for the Cobb County Fire Department in Marietta, Ga.

"When they strike a whole box, the fascination wears off," Mr. Holton says.

The positive approach is preferred by fire-department education officers who teach fire safety to children in nursery schools and kindergartens across the country.

"We start out by asking the children to name some toys," Mr. Holton says. "Then we ask them to name tools. Do you play with tools? No. Then we explain that matches and lighters are tools for adults to use."

Mr. Holton never tells children not to play with matches. "At this age, telling them not to do it is like telling them to go out and do it."

Long after a young child seems to lose a fascination for fire, adults must still make sure all sources -- lighters, matches, candles, etc. -- are out of sight and out of reach.

CAN YOU HELP?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Best books: What are your favorite parenting books? "I have two young nephews, and my brother and his wife have a lot of questions about raising them," says Charlotte Lawford of Buffalo, N.Y. "I need to know what are the best parenting books."

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