Psychologists have identified the following motivations for juvenile fire-setting as well as corresponding treatments:

  • Curiosity/accidental: nonpathological fire-setters. The most common type, they often do not understand the consequences of fire-play and tend to be 5 to 10 years old. Interventions may include fire-safety education, evaluation for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and parent training.

  • Cry-for-help: children who consciously or subconsciously use fire to draw attention to a stress in their life. Common problems underlying this type are depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or family stress. Interventions may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, treatment for depression, medication consultation and family therapy.

  • Delinquent: fire-setters who often show little empathy for others but tend to avoid harming others. Typically 11 to 15 years old, they cause significant property damage and often show common aggression and conduct problems. Interventions may include behavior management, empathy training, relaxation techniques and treatment for depression.

  • Severely disturbed: children with a fixation on fire, including paranoid and psychotic children who may want to harm or kill themselves. Interventions may include intensive inpatient or outpatient cognitive-behavioral therapy and social skills training.

  • Cognitively impaired: developmentally disabled or impaired children. They tend to lack good judgment but avoid intentional harm; significant property damage is common. Interventions may include special education, intensive fire education and behavior management.

  • Sociocultural: children who set fires primarily for support from peers or community groups, such as those fires set during riots or in religious fervor. Interventions may include traditional psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy.

--M. DITTMANN