How can one teach a 5 year old that acetone, white spirit and other household solvents are not to be played with if he somehow manages to get a hold of them?

One idea is to go to the yard far enough from any flammable structures, pour some amount onto ground (where no plants grow of course) so that a pool about two feet in diameter forms and set that on fire so that a kid could see that violent flame and think twice whether he wants it anywhere in a house.

Is that a good idea? What are other options?


I think that is a very bad idea, because it is likely to have the opposite effect -- cool rather than scary -- so in effect you'd be teaching your kid pyrotechnics. After all, there's a reason why Hollywood flicks are full of explosions. I'm sure a 5yo doesn't understand whether it's sensible to play with fire indoors. Do you really want him to play with fire even if he only does so outside?

Why would you want to demonstrate flammability in particular? Solvents are dangerous, but not exclusively because they're flammable. To make them burn, you need several items; solvents and fire. But they can be dangerous on their own, e.g. by ingestion, and I'm sure you're not going to demonstrate that.

Have you told your child not to eat the detergent from the washing machine? You could use the same approach with any other dangerous material. Matches, detergents, any number of household and garden materials and tools.

I think demonstrations are very useful for things you want to encourage. But for discouragement, demonstrations can be impractical and counterproductive -- and potentially very dangerous on their own!

If you really want to demonstrate flammability, ask your local fire department when they do such demonstrations. That will help educate your child that only trained professionals should handle these things and that not even daddy dares it!

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    the demonstration at the local fire department is an excellent idea! – BBM Jul 30 '11 at 21:07

I think anything to demonstrate how to put fires out isn't the way to go. I think seeing the effects of fire is a better way, look up forest fires, what they do to communities, animals, and livelihoods. I'd really be looking at the negatives of fire as, it's been said, fire is, like or loathe it, very cool with kids.

I wouldn't advocate showing death, but showing destruction should be a nagative enough image to deter. I think once that has set in, is the time to introduce safety. I've been part of a forest fire in Australia and it was terrifying. When I was young, i set fire to one of our outhouses and it was incredible, as was the time I set fire to some tyres. seeing the destruction of fire, set me on a slightly different path.

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    +1 the BEST "don't play with matches" education I ever got in school was when we went on a field trip, ostensibly to a nearby zoo to see the baby owls, but it just happened the bus route went through a state forest that had been gutted by fire just a couple weeks prior. The bus driver slowed down so everyone could get a good look/smell, and one of the teachers gave a fire-and-brimstones lecture from the aisle. At the zoo, after seeing the owls, we also "got" to see the deer and bears that had been hurt by the fire. – cabbey May 24 '11 at 1:11

I'd agree with the above but rather than chastise the burning part, which I think is cool but not really the issue, what you want is to instruct your child to NOT touch or play with dangerous things. Fire is not really going to make the point you want, I would think, I know it didn't when I was young and all it really did was give me an urge to burn things. Which got knocked out of me after my Mom found me burning stuff near our garage, she was not happy to say the least.

Two things I'd say you should do here:

  1. Keep items like this out of reach of your kids and locked away
  2. Give them a good lecture, so they would understand, about why these things should be left alone

My son knows certain things are not to be touched, or played with, anything that is a cleaner or under the locked sink cabinet is not to be touched without an adult around. Anything that could be REALLY dangerous I keep locked up in the basement, high up on a shelf, or locked in the garage. I also don't draw attention to them, that usually ends up engaging interest on a kid's part. Most of these products, in the US, have labels on them noting poison and danger through colored icons, in the grocery store I noted to my son the labels so he knows not to touch things with those labels. I did it there to keep attention away from anything we had in the house, and sometimes I ask him what the icons mean to see if he remembers. Which he does so its been good so far.

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    Clever to point out details while at the store. Some people feel it's safer to never store dangerous materials "under the sink" but always "top shelf". – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 23 '11 at 12:10
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    Yeah, same here but unfortunately our kitchen is limited in space and we have some really good childproof locks installed. Plus the kitchen is gated so we have multiple layers of security. – MichaelF May 23 '11 at 15:05
  • Upvoting this in particular for the more sensible fire attitude. The problem in the proposed scenario isn't the fire, just the fact that it doesn't address teaching the kids to avoid the hazardous materials. Fire safety is a separate and important lesson - teach control, not fear. – Saiboogu May 23 '11 at 19:16
  • @MichaelF: are you sure that those really good childproof locks are really "really good childproof locks"? We had some "safety turning knobs" for the cooker. Our son (<2 years) had turned on one of the hotplates the same day I installed the knobs. And I remember that, when I was a child, my grandmother always gave me the flasks with medicine for opening the child-proof cover, if she could not open it herself.... Some children are very light-handed. – BBM Jul 30 '11 at 21:15
  • I don't trust anything really dangerous to plastic locks, just stuff I want to keep away from being used without my permission - or snacks. – MichaelF Aug 1 '11 at 19:01

It's a bad idea, to be honest.

For starters, it shows him HOW to burn things - which he might think is 'cool', and secondly many solvents and other chemicals are persistent pollutants - something you don't really want to be dumping on your yard anywhere.

I agree with Torbengb; see if your local fire dept is having any demonstrations, or is willing to demonstrate for your son the dangers of fire.

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You've brought me back to my boyhood.

In short, we were nerds. When computers got boring we we ripped off most of the heavy metals from our school lab and did potentially blinding things with them, and even gained shrapnel a few times which we explained as playing accidents.

We had dumb parents.

The best way to teach "I need dad or mom to use this" is to show them what can happen, and show them that you are happy to encourage their "what happens if I drop this whole block of sodium in water" curiosity as long as they involve you. You can find that on line, or they will :)

Otherwise, if the kid is bright, they'll do it anyway. Given your question, I'm quite sure the kid is bright.

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    I agree in general, but I think there are many cool things and experiments to do with 5 year olds that doesn't involve teaching them how to burn down the house. :-) – Lennart Regebro May 24 '11 at 6:08

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