As mentioned yesterday, this is a subject very close to my heart. Much like buying the right car seat or talking about “strangers” or “tricky people,” talking to kids about fire safety is a tricky and potentially intimidating topic.
It’s hard to know what information is developmentally appropriate, and what information will help in the event of an actual fire.
Learn with Play at Home wrote this awesome list post of things to teach an older child (4+) about fire preparedness. Her list is comprehensive, so I’ll focus on making the conversation developmentally appropriate for your child.
It can be hard to know what information will save your child in the case of an emergency – and what information may cause an emergency in and of itself.
For example, if I don’t teach my daughter how to open windows – is that going to be the thing that she needs to know in an emergency? OR Am I more likely to regret teaching a 3 year old how to open windows with the potential of an accident?
Do I install a way for my child to open the outside doors by themselves, or is that going to be more of a safety hazard in itself?
This is where personal family structures and knowing your child comes into place. For many children, the impulse when that alarm goes off will be to hide or come looking for you. I know that there are many parents reading this who would literally run through fire to get to their children, but we need to address the worst case scenarios – because a home fire is a worst case scenario.
If you can’t safely get to them, they can’t safely get to you. What are they to do if you don’t come get them?
You may also want to reconsider your sleeping arrangements or house lay-outs. While house fires can occur at any time of day, the risk at night can be greater as people are disoriented and the fire can be quite far along by the time the smoke alarm near your bedroom wakes you. (Another consideration when installing smoke alarms is installing connected alarms that go off simultaneously.)
Having a bedroom that is on a separate floor from your child may make it harder to reach them in the event of a fire. What compromises can be made in the interest of safety?
There’s also the concern about our child’s personal sensitivities.
When Ella learned about fire safety at 2.5 years old, she was in a classroom of older children, so the information was geared to that age group. She came home terrified about when our house would be on fire, rather than if our house would be on fire. She would cry every night about our safety, until I took her through the whole house to check for potential fire hazards.
Between the school alarm drills and the home smoke detector going off once, she was terrified of the alarms due to her sensitive ears. The sound is meant to alarm us, but we also need to consider that children hear at a different frequency than we do — there are even reports that children might not wake up to the sound of the smoke detector.
So, there is a struggle: we want to prepare our children to be safe in the event of fire, but we also do not want to create a overwhelming fear that could actually be counter-productive.
3 Fun Ways to Teach Your Child Fire Safety
My biggest success has been in sharing fire safety information in a fun and accessible way.
After about a month of Ella’s fear set in, I decided that the best way to empower my daughter around fire preparedness would be to have a fire safety mini-unit. I’ll share the details of that on Friday, but my top three ideas for any parent are:
1. Firefighter Simon Says
Children are great at learning things when their bodies are engaged and are less likely to be afraid of information given to them in the course of a game (or something else that’s enjoyable), so incorporate fire safety into a game of Firefighter Simon Says!
Firefighter Simon Says:
- Crawl with your belly to the floor to avoid the smoke in the air above you.
- Touch a door to detect heat – if it’s cool, open the door carefully; if it’s hot, leave it alone.
- Stop, drop, and roll if fire touches you
- Go to the outside meeting spot
- Whatever else is developmentally appropriate for your child
Firefighter Simon DID NOT Say:
- Go back for your favourite toy
- Hide from the fire
- Touch or go near the fire
- Any other concerns you may have about your child’s reaction to a fire
2. Visit a Fire Station
We called ahead, but were told that only schools need to schedule a visit so I brought Ella and Mister R to our local fire station one afternoon and go to meet real fire fighters and sit in a real fire truck.
For Ella, this trip was about being reassured that this big truck full of water would take care of our house and our toys, and knowing that these wonderful fire fighters would be taking care of us.
For Mister R, this trip was just a lot of fun and he got to ask all of the questions his six year old self could come up with — I also used the opportunity to ask the big, strong firefighters how they felt about eating vegetables!
Our fire station gave us a bunch of magnets and informational colouring books, which were also great for positive learning about fire safety.
3. Quick-Thinking Fire Drills
I had made this little campfire set out of toilet rolls and tissue paper for Ella and re-purposed it for this game of quick-thinking fire drills.
“Home Base” was our Family Emergency Meeting Spot – however, we did not explore the possibility that I may not be with Ella if a fire was to break out. That would have been overwhelming information and not helpful in preparing her.
I truly feel that this game and Firefighter Simon Says adequately prepared her in the event that she was not with me in a more subtle and less scary way.
The point of this game was to practice getting out of the house, and knowing our alternative routes if we came across the fire. You don’t have to worry about children memorizing all of the different routes (though that is a great goal!) but rather practice that flexible thinking and knowing basically how to get out of the house. Encourage them not to panic if a fire blocks their intended route, knowing that there are other ways to get out of the house.
So, if we were in the basement and came upstairs to “find the fire” in the kitchen, we’d exit through the playroom windows.
If we were in the kitchen and we “found the fire” in the living room, we’d exit through the backyard door.
If we were upstairs and the fire was on the stairwell, we’d exit through Mama’s bedroom window.
This is also a great game for reinforcing that we cannot stop and get our toys. My daughter, like many, has a comfort baby doll that she treats like a real baby in our daycare – addressing that the fire fighters will take care of our toys may help, but be strict on this.
PS – a couple of readers have asked about the firefighter outfit, it’s from Kidorable.
What other ways would you teach children fire preparedness?
For more activities to teach children about fire safety, check out our /f/ is for fire unit study.