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Why I Taught My Kid To Play With Fire

You may deem me irresponsible for what I am about to reveal. I beg to differ.

My third child, a six year-old boy, is precocious, inquisitive and a little naughty. His dynamic personality and strong character are the fodder for many of my articles. You may remember him from his Barbie-playing experiences or from the time I fetched him from school on my bike when my car unexpectedly broke down. He is also the same son that expressed a simultaneous disgust and fascination with his tattered bed.

And now his curiosity has taken a turn towards the elements.

Last night we attended a family barbecue and bordering the entire circumference of the garden were blazing citronella candles. Aside from the sweet-smelling aroma released by the burning oil, their primary function is to keep mosquitoes and other blood-sucking flying pests away.

Seated comfortably, while chewing a tender piece of steak and enjoying some adult conversation, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of my son tantalizing one of the flames. With a mixed expression of apprehension and curiosity, he was sticking a thin branch in and out of the fire.

Once the tip of his stick was ablaze with a tiny flame, he imagined himself a shaman enraptured in some Indian tribal dance.

I considered scolding him and shooing him away from the candle with some typical, responsible parental banter like:

“Do you realize how dangerous that is? Put that stick away and never play with fire, again.”

But I know my kid.

And I know that if left to his own devices, one day, when I am not around, his curiosity and sense of wonder will compel him to investigate further. Nothing I say will kill his attraction.

In two seconds flat, I thought it through and had taken this logic to its natural conclusion. I envisioned my son a week from now, overcome with desire to test his theories, and further explore this recent exhilaration.

“Look,” I began, crouching down next to him while grabbing the thin branch from his grip.

“If you put it into the flame like this,” I indicated, holding the stick horizontally, “the flame won’t have a chance to spread upward towards your fingers or beyond. That’s one way to keep yourself out of harm’s way.”

“Also, pay attention to the wind. If you aren’t careful and hold the stick too close to your body or face,” I demonstrated, placing the branch inches from my nose, “ a sudden burst of wind can blow the flame erratically and it can leap onto your clothes or hair. And the flames can consume you within seconds.”

“Wow, Mommy. It’s important to know this stuff, huh?“ he spoke deliberately, seemingly captivated by the notion of a raging fire.

“Also,” I continued, “when you are ready to snuff out the flame, you must step on it like this.” I illustrated by stomping on the tip of the branch.

“I’m teaching you this because I know you are smart and can understand. Fire is dangerous and deceptive. You need to stay alert and respect it.”

I know I did the right thing by accepting my son’s natural curiosity and introducing him to fire’s devastating power.

Fear breeds stupidity.

I trust when I am not hovering over him or at his side, he will remember Mom’s teachings and approach potentially dangerous forces with caution and reverence.

Read more of my reflections and musings here. Find me on twitter here.