Like moths to a flame
It's that time of the year again and Diwali is upon us. Diyas are lit in every house and the sky is lit up with firecrackers that explode in a shower of many-coloured lights. However, Diwali is more a festival of fire than a festival of lights. This is a time when parents have to make sure to watch their children like hawks to make sure that they don't get their fingers or other parts burnt. Children are drawn to fire like moths to a flame. Fire is a beautiful thing after all, fascinating even to adults. So how can you blame children if they feel the urge to play with fire?
It doesn't need a festival like Diwali to bring out this urge. Most children have played with matches by the time they hit puberty. Children find it difficult to take warnings against playing with fire seriously. After all, fire has so many positive associations in our daily lives. Fire keeps people warm; it appears in the form of candles on a birthday cake or as a symbol of romance at a candle-lit dinner for two; or at a sing-song around a bonfire; or, coming back full circle, to firecrackers at a festival like Diwali.
The first spark
Children strike that first match purely out of curiosity to see whether they too can create this fascinating thing called a fire. While the striking of a match maybe an innocuous act, there is a definite danger when it is done by a child, ignorant of its dangerous possibilities.
The mind of a child under the age of six has not developed sufficiently to make the connection between striking a match and starting a fire. Thus, he is likely to experiment indoors. When such a child sees the first flames, he will probably react with fear and walk away. He is also unlikely to tell anyone what he has done out of a fear of getting into trouble.
By the time a child is about eight or ten years old, he is well aware of the hazards of fire. So this time when he lights a match, he will do it keeping in mind the fact that it could be dangerous and that he should not get caught. At this age, a child does not play with fire out of curiosity, but expressly because it is forbidden. He will probably set fire to a newspaper somewhere outdoors where he can drop it in a hurry and stomp on it if things get out of hand. A ten-year-old does not plan to light a fire, but if the opportunity presents itself in the form of a matchbox when no one is looking, the temptation may be too much to resist.
Teaching children about fire
Parents need to instill a healthy respect for fire in their children. Thus, for instance, when lighting a firecracker in front of preschoolers, parents should appreciate the beauty of the exploding fireworks, but at the same time explain that fire can be dangerous and can hurt people. They must emphasize how important it is to handle fire carefully.
When children are a little older, parents should expressly forbid them to play with fire. They should explain to them that while it may seem easy and fun to light matches, it is dangerous and therefore not permitted under any circumstances.
With older children, parents should acknowledge the existence of peer pressure. They should tell their children that while their peers may think it very "cool" to play with fire, it is an extremely foolhardy and dangerous thing to do.
Tips for a safe and happy Diwali
- Impress on children that firecrackers can be dangerous if adequate precautions are not taken.
- Make sure there is a responsible adult present when children are bursting firecrackers.
- Ensure that firecrackers are lit in an open space away from homes and cars.
- Avoid wearing loose, flowing garments.
- Warn your children against lighting crackers while holding them in their hands.
- And last, but not least, remember that Diwali is a festival to be enjoyed by all. So celebrate in a way that does not cause inconvenience or harm to your neighbours. And that means no bombs or strings of exploding crackers.