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Children Playing With Matches

Question:

Dr. Nelsen,

I applaud you on your efforts to providing parenting advice. I appreciate your hard work and dedication on keeping and maintaining a web page for frustrated parents. I, myself, have maintained a web page for Q&A type postings, not related to behavioral science.

I have searched your Q&A posting and did not find anything regarding children and playing with matches. I have an 8-year-old son who was sternly lectured to about the seriousness of playing with matches on three separate occasions. Based on my upbringing, I too was a curiosity seeker with matches and feel that lectures and corporal punishment was not a deterrent in my behavior. However, I did eventually grow out of it luckily without a serious incident.

I looked back and analyzed why I was pyromaniacal and found no particular reason but curiosity. Then, it dawn upon me to ask the question, how do I kill the curiosity?

I read somewhere in one of my parenting books, that to kill the curiosity of something is to make the act boring. I proposed to purchase a box of book matches. Under strict supervision, have him remove each match, light it, blow it out and place it in a metal receptacle. He would repeat this process for each book until the entire box was exhausted. I anticipate that his curiosity with fire will be demolished. But, since I am not a professional in your field, I seek your advice on my proposed methodology.

Thanks for listening and keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

David

Answer:

Dear David,

Thanks for your kind words of appreciation.

Regarding the curiosity about matches, I would like to respond to several things you said. First of all, you say you gave your son a stern lecture even though  were not effective with you. I don't think lectures are effective with any children. If parents would watch closely they would see that kids are either too bored to too scared to benefit from lectures. You also want to "kill" the curiosity. I suggest a different possibility.

Instead of lectures or "killing," how about helping your child "learn" from his experience and his curiosity. You can do this by helping him to "explore" outcomes through curiosity questions. Education comes from the root word educare, which means to draw forth (as opposed to stuffing in). Draw forth wisdom from your son by asking him questions such as, "What might happen when you light matches? What is the worst thing that could happen? How would you feel about that? Understanding what could happen, what ideas do you have to solve this problem? You might even brainstorm possibilities together. You could even suggest your idea about getting a box of matches and letting him light them until his curiosity is satisfied. (I think it is a better idea to help children handle curiosity responsibly than to kill it.) Then ask him to choose the solution that would work best for him.Then express your faith in him to handle the situation responsibly.

You and your son might also enjoy reading "Positive Discipline A-Z" together. The fun thing about this book is that you can look up over 100 subjects and find several suggestions for immediate solutions, plus suggestions for preventing the problem in the future. Parents and children can read the suggestions together and see which one works best for them--or use the ideas to stimulate their own creativity. All suggestions are nonpunitive and are designed to help children learn important life skills.

I hope this helps.

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