It's my son's birthday and we decided to light some candles, but they can't stand still without him trying to take them and we don't know what he wants to do. Basically we don't ever light any fires, and so he knows nothing about fire.

He does fathom other stuff when you tell him, but in this case he thinks he's being denied something nice. Should we let him hover his hand near the candle and feel the heat?

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    For whatever reason, I remember this from my childhood. Me, age 4 or so: "Hey, I wonder if that's hot?" I then touch the hot thing, burn my finger, and run crying to mom. I never touched that hot thing again. Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 20:23
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    Adding the age (2? 3? 4?) would help focus this a little bit, although I think that the answers won't really change significantly :)
    – Acire
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 23:10

3 Answers 3


TLDR; Let him learn a hard lesson.

Sometimes children see something they want, and saying no to them just will make them want it even more. In these cases, and when the stakes aren't too high, let him learn his lesson.

What you'll serve by letting him get a slight burn is threefold.

  • "Ow that's hot, I shouldn't do that again!"
  • "If I'm near this, I should be careful with it so the pain doesn't happen."
  • "Mom/Dad was right when they told me not to do this, and I should trust their judgement a bit more."

Granted, you'll need to deal with the burn for a while, but this will help reinforce the point that fire isn't something silly to play around with. Also, only let him near it under supervision (Read: don't burn the house down), and make sure he won't get hurt too badly from it. You're looking to let him learn his own lesson, rather than traumatize him.

This also may be a good opportunity (depending on his age), to teach him about fire safety. There are plenty of ways to show him not only the bad side, but the good side to fire as well!

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    Thanks for the advice. Did just as you said. I was near so that he won't drop it on himself. So he hovered around the light and felt the heat once, then laughed. .. thought it was nice. Then the second time he let his finger stay for a while then he felt no... this is bad... then he started crying and ran away. So I lit the candle again and no he didn't want to touch it again. You're right we just have to let them learn on their own sometimes.
    – user22314
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 10:33
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    One tidbit I can share: Many years ago, my younger brother had a similar experience, got burned, had to get medication, and was afraid of fire for a while. But then one day he saw our mom using a lighter to light her cigarette. Something clicked in his head. Fast-forward a few days and our grandmother's bed caught on fire. It turned out that he had found a lighter, and was playing with it under her bed so he wouldn't be caught. Later, he admitted that he didn't think he could get hurt if he could control the flame, and turn off the lighter before it got too hot.
    – user17694
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 20:26
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    I did this with my son when he was about 2. He went towards the radiator, and I said "No. Hot". He knew what "no" meant, but I let him defy me so that he found out what "hot" meant too. It worked. Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 16:41

My Mum lit the stove and turned it off when it was hot. When she could touch it without burning herself but it still was uncomfortable, she let my brother touch it. He never tried again and had no burn, either. If you can't reason with a child, you may have to carefully show him or her. I bet you could do that with a candle. I do not remember if she did the same with me.

You already know that matches are absolute kid-magnets, so please do not put them away when your son is watching.

  • Thanks, we don't use matches. Never actually. Just a lighter.
    – user22314
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 10:34
  • Lighters are just as fascinating -- but do have the advantage of being harder to use. best of luck!
    – WRX
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 16:05

I agree with the other answers. Just want to point out that you are denying him something nice: birthday candles on his cake.

He won't keep his hand in a hot flame, so you don't have to worry about that. Hot wax is painful, but rarely hot enough to cause a second degree burn. Be alert and let him explore the heat, pull his hands back with a warning if he gets too close, but let him learn. "Hot!" Becomes associated with "caution ".

There are lots of hot things besides fire: coffee, frying pans, stove tops, boiling water, etc. Let him learn "hot" on candles; it's probably the safest alternative.


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