Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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Children Who Play With Fire


Thank you so much for your program and your willingness to make this available to us via e-book. While I have just purchased your program and an only in Assignment 1, I feel that this is our answer to a growing problem with our child. My son is 12 years old. He has been a handful since birth. I realize now that I am a 100% passive parent. I have over-indulged him out of guilt for, as his mother, working outside of the home all his life. I have always felt this was a mistake and gave him stuff and freedom to compensate. As a result, my son is defiant, disrepectful and has been suspended twice from school so far this semester. I am so thankful that your help has come along before he gets any older.

I have one major concern to address immediately. My son has had a fascination with fire, fireworks, and blowing things up for about a year. I realize some of this is normal but now his interest has resulted in damage to our home. Four days ago, he damaged the front of our garage because he blew up action figures in the driveway. When I asked him why he did that & did he not realize he was causing damage, he told me he had to do it because he was angry at the school's asst principal. This was the same day he had been suspended for two days for disrepecting teachers. He said that doing this made him feel better. I told him that he could not continue to do this. I had him wash and repair/paint the damage. He swore he would never burn again. Later that evening, we calmly discussed the possible outcomes of playing with fire..that this could be life-threatening and we could lose everything in a house fire. We even talked about fire safety and how we would exit our home in the event of a fire. He seemed to "get it".

You can imagine my surprise when the next day, I entered my kitchen only to detect smoke coming from our upstairs bonus room. I ran upstairs and was shocked at the damage he had done to the carpet upstairs. There are multiple burns. I immediately went to find him as he had already left the scene. I asked him about it & he gave me a glazed look. I am unsure if it was shame, denial or what..I have found no evidence of drugs or cigarettes so I do not believe this was a smoking session gone bad. I asked him if he had a problem that made him want to burn things. He said that when he gets mad, he burns and he feels better. (He had gotten angry at me when I denied him fireworks of all things directly before the bonus room incident.) I was shattered. I felt that there might be something more than just misconduct, but rather a psychiatric problem. Now I am confused as to whether he just totally disregards our home because he resents me for over-indulgence..or if he may also have a medical problem.

I have discussed this with my family. It seems that we agree that we must rule in/out any medical problem with a psychiatric evaluation. My plan is to have this done immediately. I am beginning Assignment 1 with him as well as he still needs behavior modification, regardless of the outcome of the evaluation. I would truly respect your opinion as to whether you believe I am going in the right direction.

Thank you again for your information and help..moreover your desire to help desparate parents.




Hi K.,

Many kids set fires out of curiosity. But some of the kids will learn that fire is a powerful tool to gain attention or enact revenge. Other kids believe that if their first fire doesn't get out of control, they can control it.

Most experts agree that the best way to understand a youngster's fire setting is by looking at the age of the youngster and the reason for the behavior. There are three categories of fire setting, and for each a different strategy is used to stop the behavior.

Curiosity Fire Setting--

The youngster is usually between 3 and 10 years old and is almost always a boy. They prefer to spend time alone and may be hyperactive.

The youngster is curious and plays with fire to learn about it. Fires are usually set in a closet or under a bed. The youngster will usually panic if the fire gets out of control. Fires set can cause major damage or even death.

Treatment at this stage is fire safety education.

Problem Fire Setting--

The youngster is usually between 5 and 12 years old and is almost always a boy. They may have a history of school and social problems. Recent changes in life or suffering from stress or injury are common.

The fire is usually random or ritualized and located in or around the home.

There is often no clear cut reason for fire setting. This could be used as a "Cry for Help."

They will continue in this behavior until stress is relieved or they are taught safer ways to cope. There is a very high chance of repeat fire setting.

Treatment at this stage involves professional counseling and fire safety education.

Delinquent Fire Setting--

The youngster is usually between the ages of 10 and 18 years old. They can be both boys and girls and are almost always in a group.

The fire is usually at an outdoor location and could involve dumpsters, grass or other vandalism type fires.

The youngster tends sets the fires to impress their peers, out of boredom, or to be defiant.

Treatment at this stage involves professional counseling, restitution and fire safety education.

How Parents Can Help--

Parents play an important role in helping prevent fires involving kids. Here are some ideas to help:

§ Make sure your kids are supervised at all times.

§ Discuss with your kids the good and bad uses of fire, the dangers of fire and how quickly it spreads.

§ Encourage your kids to tell you about any other kids playing with fire.

§ Keep all matches or lighters in a place that is not accessible to kids, such as a locked cabinet. If you smoke, keep lighters on your person or in your purse, not scattered around the house.

§ Keep Matches, lighters and other fire setting tools off limits to your kids by telling your kids to immediately bring you any matches or lighters that they find. Set consequences for kids if they are found with any fire setting tools.

§ Lock up all flammable chemicals, like gasoline, turpentine or lighter fluid.

§ Make your house fire safe by installing smoke detectors and sharing with your kids the responsibility of checking the detectors once a month.

§ Practice with your kids stop-drop-and roll and crawling low in the presence of smoke.

§ Teach your kids fire safety by planning fire escape routes from each room in the house and practicing fire drills at your house once a semester.

FAQs from other parents:

§ I have found my son playing with fire. If I burn my son's hand will they stop?

This is a myth, if you burn your son's hand they will just be scarred. You must address the real reason for his/her playing with fire before they will stop.

§ Is fire setting considered pyromania?

Pyromania is a mental disorder -- fire setting is not. It is a behavior which can have many reasons and which can be stopped.

§ Is it normal for kids to play with fire?

While curiosity about fire is common, fire play or fire setting is not normal and can be deadly.

§ Is this just a phase that that they will grow out of?

It is not just a phase and you must deal with it immediately or it will continue to happen.

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

My Out-of-Control Child: Help for Parents with Oppositional, Defiant Children

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Set boundaries. Tell him he is allowed to set off fireworks outside and away from buildings or people, for example in an empty parking lot or large park. Same goes for blowing stuff up - not acceptable anywhere near a building. If he refuses to listen, tell him if he chooses to set fires that cause damage, he will be choosing a seven day grounding with no privileges, none at all, and he will also be choosing to have you call the police and file arson charges.

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