Sparkling Confessions — I hear they're good for the soul.

Our girls play with fire. At ages five, four and two, we let them do whatever they like with the fires that we make. And there’s never been a problem.

This isn’t recklessness. It isn’t due to lack of parental values or a deficiency in common-sense. Rather, we trust our daughters to do the right thing with the fire because they have been learning about fire ever since they were babies.

One of the first sign-language words that the girls learned as babies was the sign for “hot”. When I was offering food that was hot, I didn’t just blow on it, wait for it to cool down and then give it to them. I put it on the high-chair tray hot and told them it was hot. As a result, they understood the word “hot” very quickly.

We took the same approach with our wood-fire heater in our lounge room. We taught the girls that it was hot, let them help set it up to light the kindling and then let them play around it. There were times when the girls ventured too close felt its true heat. But a little blister was a little price to pay for the complete understanding and respect for fire.

Enjoying breakfast at Judd's Lagoon, November 2010
We enjoy sitting around a campfire to eat — whether it's needed for cooking or not.

In camping, we enlist our girls to help collect sticks for the fires we like to build. They know how to arrange the sticks to make the best fire, and they know how to keep feeding the kindling into the fire so the partially-burned logs are consumed. In all of this, there have been times when they have gotten too hot or touched a stick that was still burning. But they have certainly learned to respect and handle fire properly.

Brioni playing with fire
Our girls like to play carefully with each fire we make.

So it’s ironic that in letting our children play with fire — they like to find long sticks and light the ends before pulling the sticks out to cool them off — they have been best taught how to not play with fire. They understand how fire can consume everything. They’ve seen first-hand how it can destroy a house, and they’ve also walked through bushland where evidence of fire was laying across the tracks.

It’s a great way to live. We let our children be free and as a result, they reward us with good, mature behaviour.

Calista throwing sticks on the fire, November 2010
At two-and-a-half, Calista is learning how to make fires and loves to help put sticks on the flames.

It’s great to watch our children live in freedom, exhibiting maturity beyond their years, and it makes us think about the other things we may be “protecting” them from. Would our girls also benefit from more exposure to those things?

I wonder how many other things David and I have stifled our children and promoted negative behaviours because we thought they weren’t yet ready to learn how to handle it. Slowly, slowly, we’re learning to let go, say yes more often and let our children take risks.

Like playing with fire. It’s so fun.