Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have an adopted 9-year-old daughter who recently was trying to iron her hair in the basement when she was supposed to be doing her homework in her room. Somehow, the iron fell and burned the carpet, almost starting a house fire. She knows that she is not allowed to use the iron. She has been unsafe with things in the past. She has some trauma in her background, so I don’t want to scare her by talking a lot about house fires. I have told her how serious this is, though. I don’t want to have to hide the iron, the matches, etc. from a girl who will turn ten in May. What do I do? -Mary Anne, Lexington, Kentucky
Your decision to not explicitly tell her about exactly what can happen to kids who play with irons and fire could kill her. People can overcome scary, traumatic realities like the fact that irons can cause house fires, but dying from being burned to death cannot be overcome.
Training your daughter to be safe could be a matter of life and death.
Just telling kids that something is serious isn’t very effective. All it communicates is that you think that the situation is serious for you. Warning kids about the seriousness of a situation is worthless. Kids don’t care what you think is serious. Kids need to be told the reality of situations without a lecture or judgement. They also need to be trained how to be safe.
Here’s how I would explain reality and train your daughter to be safe.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, Hon. I am so sorry about lecturing you about the whole iron thing. That must have been annoying, and I won’t do it again. Just know that playing with the iron can lead to a house fire that could kill all of us in a very, very painful way. Our skin would be burned off our bodies as we died from smoke inhalation.
Kid: That’s disgusting. Why would you tell me that? I’m just a little kid.
Kid Whisperer: Just so you’ll know. OK, you presently struggle with not being safe. It’s important that everyone who lives in this house be safe with dangerous things so that we minimize our chances of dying a terrible, miserable death.
Kid: That’s horrifying.
Kid Whisperer: Indeed it is. You may have noticed that I have brought the iron, these matches, and the fireplace lighter up here to the kitchen table. You have nearly caught the house on fire with each one of these things in the last few years even though we have told you to never, ever touch these things. Before you go about living your life, you will become an expert at not touching these items. How long do you have to practice not touching these deadly objects: 4 hours or 6 hours?
Kid: What? This is child abuse!
Kid Whisperer: OK, six hours it is. You can get any books or homework to do here at the table. It is 8:00 am. If you can manage to not touch these items until 2:00 pm, you will be telling me that you are an expert at not touching things that can kill us. If you do choose to touch one of these implements of death, we will start the clock over.
Kid: This is ridiculous!
Kid Whisperer: Fair enough. If you can’t get this done before bed time, you can finish tomorrow. I will be here with you, doing our taxes. Good luck, this is going to be awful.
Kid: That’s not nice!
Kid Whisperer: I was talking to myself.
Above all else, we all pray for the safety of our kids. By giving your daughter the real facts about the consequences for being unsafe and training her to stay away from dangerous materials, you can raise the chances that she can stay safe for a lifetime.