There is a never-ending list of topics we should talk to our children about. One topic that doesn’t usually come to mind immediately is fire safety.
I recently found out that the month of October is dedicated to fire prevention and fire safety awareness. I began thinking about how much my kids know about fire safety and how I can build on our former conversations about the topic. Last fall, a huge fire destroyed a local dairy barn. My son was four years old at the time and was very curious about it.
Up to that point, I had not discussed fire safety with him. He has always been curious and observant. He has a huge imagination too. It didn’t surprise me one bit when he asked me if the fire that destroyed the old dairy barn the previous weekend was like the fire that came from dragons.
I tried to picture what my son imagined. I told him that while the dragons he was referring to spit fire in stories, when fires actually happen in real life they come from other sources. We began discussing which types of materials catch on fire and which don’t. We discussed the difference between controlled fires (i.e. our campfires) and uncontrolled fires (like the one at the farm). It was challenging, but I made my best attempt to explain how lightning caused the fire at the farm in language he could understand.
As the conversation went on, I realized that how little he knew about fire. He was, however, capable of learning how to be safe with fire.
While he knew what ‘fire’ was, his experiences with it were limited to our gas stove, campfires from the previous summer, lighting candles, and, of course, pictures of dragons. He had been on a couple of field trips to the fire station with his previous daycare and preschool classes, but I think he was probably more interested in looking at the big red trucks. It was also possible that he didn’t fully grasp what the firefighters did and what they told him and his classmates about.
He has never actually seen a building on fire. He doesn’t actually understand how devastating a home fire can truly be.
This conversation made me so grateful for his curiosity. I have to remind myself frequently that my son is still very young. He may be able to have some complex conversations with me, but there is still plenty I can teach him. What is common knowledge to me isn’t always so familiar to him. So often as parents I think we assume that our children know what has been common sense to us for so long when in fact, if they haven’t experienced it, they may know very little.
As a parent, I’ve always followed fire safety measures but never took the time to explain what I was doing or why.
I just assumed my kids saw and understood my caution. For example, I placed a child locator sticker I received at a local touch-a-truck day at the bottom corner of the bedroom door. I thought about this and realized that I was not sure if he knew the purpose of it. He knew why we have smoke detectors, but I knew I could probably explain it better. We had talked about getting out of the house in the event of a fire, but we had yet to come up with a meeting place.
Our conversation about fire safety also led me to think about what would happen if I couldn’t get to him and his younger sister if we had a fire.
If the fire were between our rooms, would he know what to do? Would he insist on trying to find me or my husband? Quite likely, yes. Would he know to check his door to see if it was hot? Did he know what to do if it was hot? Probably not.
If a firefighter came and found him in his room, whether that be through a window or his bedroom door, would he freeze?
What would his first reaction be? To become scared and cry? Would he go to safety with the firefighter willingly? Would he encourage his little sister to go with the firefighter too? Or would his fear of unfamiliar people kick in? In the past, we talked about the difference between strangers and people who would help him, but a firefighter in a mask could be very intimidating for a young child.
At that point, I started contemplating how to add to his knowledge of fire safety. I think most of us have good background knowledge when it comes to fire safety. However, kids can’t absorb a ton of information at once. Actually, adults can’t either. Overwhelming anyone with too much information is never a good thing.
I decided to do three things when we began discussing fire safety again:
Pick two or three important points I wanted to make and really drive those points home for my son.
The first time we talked about fire safety, we talked about where our meeting place outside the home would be in case of a home fire. We discussed that it was okay if we didn’t all get there the same way. We also talked about what to do if he could not get out of his room and how it was ok to trust a firefighter if he/she came to help him and his sister in an emergency.
Show him what I was talking about.
So many people are visual learners. Children especially benefit and remember more when visuals are used. I know I learn best by watching someone do something and then copying them. I didn’t just tell him about the family meeting location, we went and stood there together. We also stood in the middle of his room and I explained that a firefighter could come in his window or his door and how that might happen. I showed him pictures of firefighters in full gear and explained why they needed equipment.
Repeat and review/ask him about what I just taught.
This step is often essential when teaching children anything, not just fire safety. I feel that during these obligatory conversations we should be having with our kids, we often just spit out a bunch of facts for them. We expect them to just absorb everything. If we want our children to remember how to be safe, we need to be sure they are paying attention. They need to have a good grasp on the skills that could save their lives in the event of an emergency.
There is so much more we can teach our children about fire safety. I plan to add to my children’s knowledge of what to do in the event of a fire very soon.
I found more resources on how I can make these conversations more memorable for my son. The following are a few good resources I found. These resources have suggestions for games you can play, activity sheets you can print, and just general ideas that may be helpful to you.
http://sugarspiceandglitter.com/talk-kids-fire-safety/ – has great suggestions on how to talk to your children about fire safety and games you can play to make your points.
http://sparkyschoolhouse.org/ -contains short (possibly cheesy but probably effective for young children) videos on fire safety with Sparky the Dog
http://www.firesafekids.org/ – contains printable worksheets with puzzles and activities to help teach fire safety.
http://www.communityhealthstrategies.com/childrens-books-on-fire-safety/ – A list of children’s books that help kids learn about fire safety.