Prevent Kitchen Fires

For young children, the message to teach about the stove or oven is clear: Keep Away and create a 3-foot kid-free zone away from the stove, oven or other hot items.  Like matches and lighters, these things are tools for adults only.

But when is a child old enough to be given any cooking responsibilities that involve this equipment?  Because every child’s development and personality is different, there is no single rule that can determine when a child can be given responsibility for cooking, but here are some things to consider:

How old and mature is the child?

Before the age of about 11 years old, children can’t really anticipate events they haven’t experienced.  If something unexpected happens, they are unprepared. This has nothing to do with the child’s intelligence; it is simply normal brain development.

Parents are often fooled by children of this age.  Elementary school children are very good at following directions. If they are shown how to do something, most often they can perform even a complex chore correctly time and again-as long as the pattern remains the same.

What they are not good at is anticipating what might go wrong and how to respond if something does.  So even if they can cook, and do so regularly, they need close supervision. If the grease catches on fire or a napkin falls across a burner, it is only by chance that they will respond quickly and appropriately.

Think about hiring a babysitter for your own children. Most people want a sitter who is older than elementary school age. They understand, intuitively, that one of the key responsibilities of a babysitter is to keep their children safe in an emergency.  They are able to respond and react correctly if something unexpected happens.  National Babysitting Training Courses are designed for 11-to-15-year-olds, setting a national standard concerning the age of responsibility.

How well does the child comply with other types of rules?

Some children are more impulsive than others, some are more compliant, and some are bigger risk-takers.  A 14-year-old who is a risk-taker may not be ready to be given this responsibility while a more compliant 12-year-old is.

Has the child been taught clear rules about cooking, such as:

  • Always stay close to the stove and watch it carefully when you’re cooking food.
  • Keep a pan’s lid and a dry oven mitt nearby, and know what to do if food or grease catches fire.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire, including towels and wooden utensils, a safe distance from the stovetop.
  • Turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
  • Wear short, close fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
  • Always use oven mitts when putting things in or taking things out of the oven.
  • In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat, keep the door closed and go outside to call 911.

Do you use safe techniques yourself when you cook?

What you do can be more important than what you tell a child.  Leaving food cooking on the stove unattended not only creates an immediate hazard but tells children that fire needn’t be treated seriously.  Children often imitate the actions of adults.  Remember to Stand By Your Pan when cooking, frying or broiling and Put a Lid On It and turn off the heat if there is a fire in a pan on the stove.

When you have questions about fire safety, please contact your local fire department on their non-emergency business telephone number.