View Full Version : My daughter's fear of fire (Update)

10-23-2007, 03:40 PM
I've been searching online for a way to help my little Sydney, age 7, and am unable to find any suggestions that I think would work for her.

We moved to this house in January, and she was great here for several months, but for the last couple months she's been so afraid of fire, and of people breaking into the house (none of which have ever happened to anyone in our family) to the point that she won't go upstairs to her room by herself, she won't go upstairs to go potty by herself, she can't take a bath without me being there and generally sobs and jumps up and down in fear every time I suggest she go get a book to read, or anything else that has to do with going upstairs. :verysad:

I've tried to be patient, but its really wearing thin. For the rest of the family. We have gone over an exit strategy, we have checked all the smoke detectors. Explained that its a new house with good wiring, etc. I just don't know what to do to help her get beyond this.

She's always had a fear of something. Fear of the dark. Fear of wind. Fear of balloons (she just couldn't handle being outside with a balloon, poor kid). She's moved beyond those, kinda. I'm afraid she'll end up being a multi-phobic person. Any suggestions?

10-23-2007, 03:44 PM
Have you talked to her pediatrician about it? It does sound like an extreme amount of anxiety for a kid, maybe the ped would have some suggestions on how to deal with it. Good luck!

10-23-2007, 04:51 PM
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, we had a fire that started in my bedroom (lampshade was tilted and was set on fire by the lightbulb), and it really traumatized me. I was terrified of fire afterward.

It had burned up a couple of my cabbage patch dolls, and my mom would try to give me the "surviving" cabbage patch dolls, but every night I would get up and face those dolls away from me. I wouldn't tell my mom what was going on, because I was so scared. Basically, I was afraid that if I played with the dolls I still had, the ones who had "died" would get mad and would come back and haunt me. My mom had to take me to the pediatrician, who finally got me to tell him what was wrong.

My mom had the fire department come out and check the house (they were really nice), but I was still scared.

I think my point is that fear in a child is difficult for adults to understand. It wasn't really rational, but those events did set off a pattern of anxiety and fear which I believe was the very early beginnings of OCD (it is full-blown as an adult -- not the funny "oh, I need to keep my house tidy" kind, but the real, miserable kind). It's also not something I usually talk about or that anyone would notice, because it's very easy to hide!

If I were you, I would take her to see a child psychologist -- someone that she can talk to about her fears and who will better know how to get to the root of the problem and possibly alleviate them. Her fears -- to her -- are very real, and it would be awesome if she could get some help (we all need it sometimes, lol) and maybe start living WITHOUT those fears.

*Hugs* I hope it all works out.

10-23-2007, 09:33 PM
I went through this as a child as well - initially it started after our house was hit by lightening and for years I was scared of storms and of the dark. As that passed I became afraid that someone was going to break in and kill my parents. I literally used to wake my father up screaming in the middle of the night that there was a man with a gun in our house. I was basically afraid of my own shadow once the sun went down. I had to stop watching the news (still to this day won't watch the late news) and had my parents check all the doors before we went to bed. Left the front porch light on and put nightlights all over the house and went to bed with the radio on. Gradually we got rid of the nightlights...

Have you asked her what sparked this? Are they discussing some current event or are kids at school freaking her out?

10-23-2007, 09:59 PM
First off,

My son went through this. Big time. It occurred at a time when there were a lot of changes in his life. A change in his schooling, again. Our moving, again. Needing to make new friends, again.

So I believe there was a strong aspect of him expressing his anxiety over change in his obsession with the fact that our house *might* burn down. I too spent a lot of time and efforts on this, to the extreme of having our fire department out 3 times. Thankfully we had a friend in that area on the force.

But like you, it became extremely annoying. I became so fed up with his obsession I just naturally started to minimize. And come to think of it now... it occasionally crops up but no where near what it was when I was trying to work with him on facing his fears.

Which brings me to my second point. I've undergraduate work in Child psychology. One of the things that stuck with me (and this is 10 years later, okay?) is that a child's fears are so real and vivid to them.

They don't respond well to reason as, at your daughter's age, they are still learning to distinguish between reality and facts, and fantasy and imagination.

How that helps, I don't know! :hug: Because your post have brought back some very vivid memories for me ;)

10-23-2007, 11:44 PM
:hug:to your daughter! I know others have said it but she really should see someone about this. Maybe talk to her Ped about it and see if she does need a psychologist. What I have learned through the years when dealing with my sister, who has anxiety and manic depression, is that things will get worse if they are not addressed and handled. I really hope you can find a way to help her!

10-24-2007, 12:20 AM
Could be she's just unsettled by the move, or it could be a form of manipulation in order to garner more attention (kids are very good at that).

Either way it sounds like she needs a bit of professional assistance.

10-24-2007, 01:05 AM
Rissa, first of all, I'm sorry your daughter is having this problem. I don't have anything specific to suggest, but I will write down some thoughts. I was a fear-prone child, so I know how miserable it can be. I hope you find an effective way to help her.

Is your daughter very imaginative? Also, does she have very sensitive feelings? Would you describe her as lacking in enough self-confidence? Would you say she is of above-average intelligence? Sometimes these characteristics, in the same person, are hard to balance.

Have you asked her what sparked this? Are they discussing some current event or are kids at school freaking her out?

I was thinking this, too, although Rissa did say that her little girl does seem overly fearful about many things. I also went through this after watching that dreadful episode of "Little House on the Prairie" where Alice and Mary's baby were burned up. My mother was so angry about that episode! I developed a fear of the house burning down and couldn't sleep. My mother talked to me a lot and gradually this fear went away. But I remember it like yesterday. I was also afraid of several other things, even before that. I found refuge in reading classic fairy tales (not the ridiculous sanitized versions), Greek mythology, etc. and still escape in fantasy stories to this day. The last really stressful event in my life was moving here and yes, I dragged out my big fat edition of Grimm's! :aww:

I also agree with what Songbirdy said. I will add that stress resulting from seemingly inexplicable events (and moving is a good example--this can seem quite inexplicable to a child) can emerge as some other fear.

10-24-2007, 08:28 AM
Thank you all so much for your wonderful advice! It is greatly appreciated. Some of it likely is the move, new house, new school, new people, new routine. AnnaT, she IS quite sensitive, tender hearted, imaginative and intelligent. And absolutely she lacks self-confidence.

Sounds like many of you have gone thru similar circumstances yourselves! :hug:

Several steps will be taken asap:
1. Installing nightlights in several strategic locations.
2. Maybe stopping by the fire-station for a visit.
3. Speaking to a professional. This one I've been hesitant to do. We are sooo on a tight budget right now, its not even funny. Perhaps at the very least I could talk to the school's counselor about it.

I did talk to her about it yesterday after school. I asked her what her fears were. And she said "fire and people breaking in" hehe. I asked her about the other fears she used to have and she said she doesn't have problems with them any more. And I encouraged her by that and let her know she will likely move past this too. I told her that she is growing every day and her mind is growing too and this is a sign of that and she liked hearing that I think. And you know what? Last night went better. There were no trips downstairs to let mommy and daddy know she was afraid. She did have to wait for her sister to go upstairs, but I think that was a positive sign.

Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel?

10-24-2007, 08:31 AM
gamerchik, so sorry to hear about the fire and the resulting problems with your dolls and eventually OCD. I am thankful that you shared your story and your advice is sound. :hug:

vaknitter, I think what sparked this particular fear was going to the new school and all the fire drills they have at the beginning of school. She is very sensitive and has had alot of different fears as she has grown. Some resources online have said it is quite common to have fears as a child, and one will likely replace another. I just want to provide a safe, loving understanding environment for her.

10-24-2007, 08:40 AM
Songbirdy, your reply was particularly helpful as a mom who has been thru it, as is indeed thru it. Can I ask how you minimized? Was it in your words to him "You shouldn't be afraid of that" or was it in some other way such as minimizing the stimuli that made him afraid.

I have done the minimizing verbally, I'm afraid to say. I think it is a natural response as a parent. However, think it hasn't helped my Sydney at all. So thats why I talked to her after school yesterday. Live and learn, right?

10-24-2007, 08:44 AM
HollyP, sorry you have to deal with that with your sister. I'm sure she is quite dear to you. :hug:

Knitting-Guy, you are so right that kids know how to push them buttons, lol. She definately does her share of that. Thank you for your response!

10-24-2007, 09:57 AM
Rissa, I'm glad things seem to be getting better! I would definitely start with the school counselor. Also, something you said made me think of this- I think it's wonderful that you validated her fears. I think it makes kids *less* comfortable when we blow off their fears- especially since, as others have said, to kids their fears are VERY real and very vivid. I think validating their fears- recognizing them as real- and then helping them see that they will get over them (as you did by pointing out how she has gotten over other fears) is a great way to start!

10-24-2007, 09:59 AM
I have worked with children for several years. I also have a degree in counseling psychology (although I use that mainly with teens - rarely with children).

Please do not just keep saying to your child, "You shouldn't be afraid of that."

Kids are funny...it won't minimize her fears and can create a few other problems. It can make her feel guilty if she continues to be afraid. It can make her feel stupid. She can't control her fears. Think about what you are afraid of. Telling yourself, "Don't be afraid!" Doesn't make you any less afraid. And if she continues to be afraid even though you keep telling her not to be...it can make her try to hide it from you. She could be terrified and not tell you because she doesn't want you to be mad at her (for some reason, kids always think we will be made at them).

Instead, talk about why the house isn't going to burn down and why someone isn't going to be able to break in. Do it repeatedly. One time isn't going to "fix" it. If it comes down to it...do house searches. It sounds dumb...but look under her bed and in her closet. Point out how you would know if someone broke into the house...broken windows, smashed in doors, etc.

More than likely, she saw something on TV or one of her friends at school was talking about it and she can't shake it.

This isn't a big deal to you, just annoying. But to her...it's life and death. Ignoring it now will lead to greater anxiety and problems in the future.


10-24-2007, 11:57 AM
Repitition is what worked best for my oldest ds and his boogeyman. Minimalizing just made it worse, to the point he could even describe him. For 3 weeks or so we made the rounds checking under beds, in closets, the basement, walking around the outside of the house, and making sure all the doors and windows were locked. This took anywhere from 30-45 minutes a night, but gradually he asked to check less often until it just finally stopped.

10-24-2007, 04:05 PM
I had this exact fear as a child. I remember taking a 'class' in school where they talked about fire safety. After that I was off an running with my little phobia about the house burning down.

I made my parents check the fire alarm every night and morning. I got them to change the batteries in the fire alarms every month. I went over every emergency plan I could. (What if I was in the bathroom, what if I was in the bedroom? Kitchen? basement? etc). I was a fanatic. My mom went along with everything, talking to me, explaining fires are rare, safety is important. She allowed me to 'work it out' in my own mind.

She encouraged me to draw up the fire escape plan. Let me choose where the family would meet, ran practice drills (although she absolutely refused to allow me to practice shimming down the drain pipe from my 3rd story bedroom), she made me imagine it.

I had to leave my bedroom door open so I'd be able to see the flicker of flame. She had me talk to a fireman about safety, etc.

In general I was not a fearful child, but for some reason I OBSESSED that we would have our house burn down and all die in a house fire. I think this lasted about a year.

Then I started getting over it. Don't know why, don't know if I grew out of it, don't know. Just continue to talk to her, ask her what would make her feel better. See if her taking some control of the family emergency planning will make her feel better (it did with me), ask if there is a specific fear she has of fire (it will start in her room, she won't be able to get out, etc.) My mom helped me practice stop, drop and roll. Helped me practice touching the door to see if it was hot, etc.

Perhaps if she feel more prepared, practices and knows she won't panic if (god forbid) a fire ever does happen, she will begin to feel better. I know when I believe I have control over a situation I definitely feel better.

10-24-2007, 04:26 PM
Yes, I agree with Misty.

You shouldn't say things like, "Seriously, this isn't something you should be afraid of..."

What I meant by minimizing was that I did take the time to have the fire department come by and talk with my child. I did read books about the subject, and all sorts of things.

But I found the greater my response in entertaining the fear only grew his fear.

But when I started to just go in and give him a strong hug and say, "I know you're scared E* but we've talked about this and you know we've done everything we can to prevent a fire."

That was it. Just a hug, a few calm reassuring words and then basically "shh, shh, shh..."

One thing that I do recall was that we discovered one of his fears was "would we be able to replace the things we lost."

It seemed to really reassure him when we visited the insurance agent who simply explained that we pay him some money and he holds onto the money. Then if we ever had a fire we would get our money back and that would be enough to buy new stuff that was like our old stuff.

Hope that helps!

By the way... my son does seem to get on to things and hold on to them. For example, now his big thing is that he hates, hates, hates new.

That is for about 15 minutes. Then he gets over it.

The last 2 days we've had new windows and doors installed and for about 30 minutes he went around storming through the house mumbling about how mad he was. Then once his room's window was installed he was thrilled.

I'd say he's replaced the fire issue with the hate of change now.

And he is my more sensitive, more emotionally responsive (both good and bad) and definitely more artist in the tactile sense compared to my daughter. So perhaps there is something in the personality that responds this way.

10-24-2007, 07:17 PM
Some kids will be reassured by your preparations. Others will not. My nephew was insistent that a boulder would fall off a mountain in Colorado, roll all the way to Texas and smoosh their house. He would worry worry worry about all sorts of things. He's now on some anti-anxiety medications because his was not a normal worry. Some worries are, some worries aren't - you and your pediatrician will be able to determine that the best.

I'm still a bit afraid of fire. I really don't like fireplaces, I don't light candles all that often because I'm afraid one of the cats will get into them, and lighting pilot lights for stoves and/or furnaces skeeves me out a little bit. I always have a worry in the back of my head about electrical fires. I have no idea why I feel this way, but at least it doesn't keep me from cooking, from turning on my lights in my house with nearly 70 year old wiring, and from lighting pilot lights when I need to. I'm just careful. And I pray about it, and in doing so let someone else do the worrying. That's been my way of dealing with it.

11-01-2007, 03:12 PM
Just wanted to give you all a quick update. We've been working with her, encouraging her, repeatedly letting her know she's safe and we are seconds away, even when downstairs.

My little Sydney shocked me yesterday. After trick or treating, she went up to her room and read a book, upstairs....alone...for about 10 minutes!! She didn't come down until I called up the stairs asking what she was up to! Such an answer to prayer! I'm sure we aren't out of the woods yet with her. But I definately consider this a positive sign!

Thanks again for all your kind thoughts and words of encouragement! :muah:

11-01-2007, 03:33 PM
Just wanted to give you all a quick update. We've been working with her, encouraging her, repeatedly letting her know she's safe and we are seconds away, even when downstairs.

My little Sydney shocked me yesterday. After trick or treating, she went up to her room and read a book, upstairs....alone...for about 10 minutes!! She didn't come down until I called up the stairs asking what she was up to! Such an answer to prayer! I'm sure we aren't out of the woods yet with her. But I definately consider this a positive sign!

Thanks again for all your kind thoughts and words of encouragement! :muah:

Rissa, I'm so glad things seem to be turning around! I have been thinking of you and Sydney.

11-01-2007, 07:01 PM
:yay: Its nice to hear that things are coming around! :hug: because it can be stressful!

11-02-2007, 11:33 AM
It sounds like it's starting to turn around! Good for you! :cheering: