Children and Fire

sakes2Parenting PhD. Staff

It’s not unusual for kids to be attracted to fire. After all, it wouldn’t be a birthday without a glowing, candle-covered cake. And who doesn’t love sitting around a campfire at night?   Even with the best efforts from parents, kids might play with fire.  Most of the time this can be handled by explaining the dangers and setting clear ground rules and consequences for not following them. 

Reasons why children start fires:

Curiosity— fire setting occurs in kids who have a natural curiosity about fire, coupled with limited knowledge of the dangers.  Sometimes the lure of forbidden fruit may tempt young children to experiment with fire.

 Opportunity—children find matches or lighters within easy reach.

 Association– kids model family or peers who unwittingly abet inappropriate fire use.  Mom’s smoldering cigarettes or dad’s trash fire in the yard won’t escape the keen eyes of children.   

 Trauma—pre-existing childhood trauma can lead children to vent frustration with bullying, victimization, or other life circumstances.

Stress – Fire setting is a behavior that releases accumulating internal stress.  On the other hand, starting fires can be stress-and-danger-seeking behavior to relieve boredom in an uneventful life.  The latter is often closely related to vandalism, shoplifting, and graffiti painting among juveniles.

 Power – Fire setting is a means for juveniles who otherwise feel disempowered to attain power over people and/or the environment.

 Acceptance– Fire setting can be motivated by a desire to gain acceptance from a peer or a peer group.

 Attention- Fire setting is behavior caused in large part by the firesetter’s knowledge that it will produce a substantial reaction or response from the wider society, such as the arrival of police and fire departments.




  • Teach children that fire is not a toy.  Let children know that even adults must follow special safety rules for fire. 
  • Reward your child for bringing you any matches or lighters they may find at home or on the playground. 
  • Be a good role model.  Don’t leave candles burning unattended, etc.


When does experimentation turn to trouble?  Sometimes kids seem to be especially preoccupied with fire and repeatedly attempt to set things on fire.  That can signal emotional and behavioral issues that require professional help.  Here are some red flags that, combined with fire setting, may indicate a need for help.

Recent changes in behavior

Temper tantrums, mood swings, impulsive behavior or excessive anger

Problems at school

Poor social relationships—child may be a loner

Other troublesome behaviors such as stealing, lying, or fighting

Child failed to get help to extinguish a fire

Shows extreme curiosity about fire

Recent losses due to death, health, divorce, loss of friendships, moves, etc.

Sad, withdrawn appearance

Poor self esteem

Family stresses

Boasts about fire sets

Fire was set out of anger or in response to a family problem

In a typical year in the United States, 300 people are killed and $300 million in property is destroyed in fires set by children. Children themselves are usually the victims of these fires, accounting for 85% of lives lost. If you suspect your child has a problem with fire, your local fire department or mental health clinic can put you in touch with people who can help.


 Read Aloud Book:

National Fire Marshals Association produces an excellent book for kids aged 3-6.  Children Are No Match for Fire costs $10 and a portion of the proceeds goes to juvenile intervention programs for fire starters.

Growth Plate Injury

skel2Parenting PhD. Staff


Growth plates are the areas of actively growing bone tissue found at the ends of the long bones in children and teens.  This softer, more elastic tissue allows for rapid bone growth as kids sprout up seemingly overnight. The plates gradually fill with solid bone and cease to exist by the time a child’s growth ends in young adulthood.

Growth plates, weaker than the surrounding bone, are more susceptible to falls or being hit.  Wrists, ankles, legs, and feet are common sites for such injuries.  This young bone is also less resistant to stress and to shear and tension forces.  An injury that may result in a torn ligament in an adult may produce a potentially more serious separation of the growth plate in a child.

Growth plate fractures account for a third of all juvenile bone breaks and are more common in boys than girls but the ladies are catching up.  Accidents are an obvious culprit.  One of the most common causes of growth plate fractures is running or playing around furniture or playground equipment.  Biking, skateboarding, and snow sports cause a significant number of injuries, as do competitive sports, especially football.  In several studies, organized sports accounted for more injuries than recreational activities.  Motor vehicle accidents, including motorcycles and all‐terrain vehicles, also account for a significant number of especially severe injuries.

Repetitive stress is another cause of growth plate injury.  The terms pitcher’s arm, basketball hip, or runner’s shin have been used to describe such injuries in young athletes. During adolescence, bone plates are vulnerable to repetitive micro-trauma caused by too much practice or play.  If left untreated, the bone injury can cause uneven bone growth (one leg longer than the other, for example) permanent bone deformities, or disabilities.  Contrary to popular folk wisdom, young athletes should not “work through” or “play through” injury.  Research has shown that recovery is quickest if the injury is immobilized or rested until the patient has been pain-free for 4-6 weeks. Rest, followed by gentle stretching and a gradual return to play, will usually get the youngster back on track.

Are medal winning female gymnasts at the top of their sport because their tiny, petite forms give them an advantage?  Or are many of them tiny and petite because of their sport?  The jury is still out on this question but some researchers surmise that the mechanical and weight-bearing stress of gymnastics may injure the germinal cells in the growth plates, especially if blood flow is compromised.  Delayed menstruation and nutritional deficits common among elite girl athletes may put them at further risk for bone damage and may affect their growth potential.

We cannot keep children swaddled in bubble wrap. Kids are going to fall off bicycles, skateboards, and playground equipment, or have other childhood misadventures.  There are things parents can do, however, to lessen the risk of long term complications.


  • Have injuries or pain checked by a doctor—especially if pain is severe or persistent. Swelling, deformity, or inability to put weight on a limb are other signs that a visit to the doctor is in order.


  • Observe your child’s sport practices.  Good coaches utilize a variety of drills or activities during practice to avoid excessively repetitive movements that may result in overuse injury. Their emphasis will be on quality and individualization of workouts rather than training volume.


  • If your child is experiencing a sudden, rapid growth spurt, ask the coach to reduce training loads and delay skill progressions.


  • Avoid single sports and year round sports prior to skeletal maturity. Make sure your child has a break of at least six weeks between seasons. 



  • Make sure that shin guards, elbow pads, or other protective gear are in good shape.


Further Reading:

Physeal injuries in children’s and youth sports: reasons for concern?

D Caine, J DiFiori, N Maffulli

British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2006 September; 40(9): 749–760.  doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2005.017822


National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Prevention of Pediatric Overuse Injuries

Tamara C. Valovich McLeod, Laura C. Decoster, Keith J. Loud, Lyle J. Micheli, J. Terry Parker, Michelle A. Sandrey, Christopher White

Journal of Athletic Training. 2011 Mar-Apr; 46(2): 206–220. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-46.2.206


The child and adolescent athlete: a review of three potentially serious injuries

Dennis Caine, Laura Purcell, Nicola Maffulli

BMC Sports Science and Medical Rehabilitation. 2014; 6: 22.  doi: 10.1186/2052-1847-6-22


Skeletal Geometry and Indices of Bone Strength in Artistic Gymnasts

Jodi N. Dowthwaite, Tamara A. Scerpella

Journal of Musculoskeletal Neuronal Interaction. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 February 17.





Parenting PhD. Staff