Editorial

Reader Submission: Teaching Kids Knife Skills

(Editor’s note: Gemma Perry is a freelance writer with a couple of prior TTAK pieces under her byline. The photos are my contribution to the post. We are always happy to consider reader submissions. Contact us at thetruthaboutknives@gmail.com – HCA)

How To Teach Children Knife Skills

by Gemma Perry

The combination of children and knives causes a lot of people to break out into a cold sweat. That’s not unreasonable. Knives need to be treated with respect, and can be very dangerous in inexperienced hands. However, the best time to gain that essential experience is when you’re young, and your brain is primed for learning [1]. Teaching children knife skills is not the same as letting them play with knives – it’s something which occurs under close adult supervision [2] and, crucially, lets them grow up seeing knives as tools rather than as weapons. If you’re wondering whether or not to teach your kids some knife skills, here are a few things to consider – and a few hints about how to do it!

Benefits Of Teaching Kids Knife Skills

Let’s not deny it, knives can be dangerous. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. If used incorrectly, they can cause some horrendous accidents. If used as a weapon, they can cause nasty injuries and death, leading to serious physical and mental issues for victims and their families – including PTSD [3] and all that this entails [4]. With this in mind, it’s completely understandable that people wish to keep their children as far away from knives as possible. However, one of the best ways to prevent knife accidents is to teach people to use knives properly, and one of the best ways to prevent knife violence is to teach people that knives are tools, not weapons. Both of these lessons can be instilled via a few basic knife-skills lessons. The benefits of teaching your children knife skills include:

  • Instilling a healthy respect for knives and what they can do.

  • Ensuring correct usage, to prevent accidents.

  • Imbuing the idea of knives as tools rather than as weapons.

  • Imparting some essential cookery skills!

  • Improving risk assessment skills.

  • Enabling greater independence.

  • Reinforcing healthy eating habits (it’s generally healthy foods which require chopping)!

All sounds pretty good, yes? But how are you to get all of these benefits without accidents? We have a few suggestions:

1 – Let Them Observe First

Handing your toddler a sharp knife from the get go may not be the best idea. Before you let your children handle any knives, demonstrate how they should be used first. Children learn a lot by imitation [5]. Make your demonstrations slow, and clear, and repeat them often. It may be worth having your children practise how to hold and use the actual knives on dummy knives or butter knives beforehand.

2 – Start Small

Don’t launch in with a double-bladed hunting knife. Start your children small. Cutting soft fruit is a good way to begin [6], building up to things like penknives. Much as they may want to wield a machete from day one, don’t give in! Apart from anything else, insisting on a properly graded progression will help your children to understand that these are potentially dangerous implements which should never be handled by someone who does not know what they’re doing.

3 – Think Practical

For optimum safety, be practical about what you’re doing. Ensure that all cutting surfaces are steady, that the knives are in good condition and unlikely to slip, that you have a good view of what your kid is doing (and are able to quickly leap in if they start going wrong), and that your child is easily able to reach and maneuver as need be.

4 – Don’t Pressure

Sometimes, we as parents need to push our children out of their comfort zone [7] to ensure that they progress. However, if your child is displaying fear of knives, it’s worth noting that this fear will probably make them less focused and more unsteady while they’re using them. Which, obviously, is unsafe. Rather than pushing them harder than they need, make sure that they’re completely comfortable not only with the knives they’ve learned about, but with the idea of learning about another knife before you progress. And don’t teach them about blades they don’t really need to learn about. No toddler needs to know how to use a samurai sword!

Kids need to use all tools, not just knives.

[1] Christopher G Lucas, Sophie Bridgers, Thomas L Griffiths, Alison Gopnik, “When children are better (or at least more open-minded) learners than adults: Developmental differences in learning the forms of causal relationships”, Journal of Cognition, 2014

[2] Sujata Gupta, “Go Ahead, Give Your Toddler A Kitchen Knife”, NPR, Sept 2015

[3] Laurence Cawley, “Knife death families suffer PTSD, hair loss, and flashbacks”, BBC News, Oct 2013

[4] Helen Farrell, “Ending the Confusion of PTSD and Addiction”, Rehabs.com, Jul 2016

[5] Andrew N Meltzoff, “Born To Learn: What Infants Learn From Watching Us”, “The Role Of Early Experience In Infant Development”, 1999

[6] Michelle Stern, “Tips for Teaching Knife Skills to Kids & 5 Suggestions for Kid-Safe Cutting Tools”, What’s Cooking, Aug 2010

[7] Kirsty Henderson, “Time for adventure: push children out of their comfort zone”, Independent School Parent

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