Asking the important questions: Should I give my 2 year-old a knife?

I still struggle with how much I am willing to let my older children use knives.

Believe it or not, it was a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, hardly a right-wing fishwrapper, who asked that question.


I am terrified by the thought that he might cut himself, and I don’t want to be a careless or irresponsible mother. But am I doing him a disservice by not letting him near knives?

Some educators and anthropologists suggest it’s a good idea for kids to learn how to use knives – and other dangerous objects – from an early age on…

The anthropologist David Lancy examined the knife use of children in more than 100 pre-industrial societies, and found that small children are permitted to use sharp knives, and they learn how to use them through close observation (field trip to the butchers shop, anyone?). Lancy found that those children became proficient at using knives at a young age and were able to help out in their community as a result.

The computer scientist, author and educator Gever Tulley argues that you should actively encourage your kids to do dangerous things. He wrote a book called Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), and he founded first a camp and later a schooldedicated to letting kids get their hands on knives and hammers and other things we parents like to say no to.

“As a group we tend to leap to the worst possible conclusions in every scenario,” Tulley told The Atlantic. “We see a child climbing a tree and the first thing we think of is how they might fall and be maimed for life, when we might as easily say, ‘Look at how well Sarah is climbing that tree!’ When we protect children from every possible source of danger, we also prevent them from having the kinds of experiences that develop their sense of self-reliance, their ability to assess and mitigate risk, and their sense of accomplishment.”

I am guilty of this as well. It stems from many directions. First are the simple short-term considerations. I don’t want to see my kids injured. I am usually hurrying to get dinner made between school and sports/scouts/etc and am frankly just faster and more efficient.

There are the secondary considerations of not wanting to deal with the possible disapproval of ER doctors, teachers, and even my wife who is not always as permissive as I. “Defensive Parenting” has become far too prevalent, and our children are suffering for it.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been teaching my kids to use knives, they are certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to other 6 and 9 year olds.  I am sure I could give them a longer leash, I just struggle with it, as I am sure most parents do.

We have discussed it before, but how do you folks balance the risk/benefit when introducing your kids to knives?


  1. cmeat says:

    it’s all touch and go and hopefully that’s not to get stitches.
    2yr old seems ripe for play- doh and a plastic butter knife.
    you can actually envision the digits being severed the first time they handle sharp.
    closing tricky folders is a trap. you’ll have to sit on your hands while you watch.
    it has to be done.

  2. would you let your 2 year old play, unsupervised in the kitchen, with the range and oven? In a woodworking shop?

  3. Sam L. says:

    I wouldn’t let them start before 4 with anything sharper than a butter knife. Need to develop some fine motor skills before letting them use sharps under supervision.

  4. D. Layne says:

    I’m over 70, so my childhood was lived in a different America with different rules. I was using a knife at 4. My parents gave me my own pocket knife at 5 so I would quit taking the kitchen knives. Yes, I occasionally cut myself, but no lasting damage ensued and I have carried a pocket knife or larger all my life. Children cannot learn if they are protected against everything. Danger, like germs, should be administered in metered amounts.

  5. knightofbob says:

    Two seems a bit young, since most kids don’t start developing permanent memory until around three, if I remember correctly. And I can’t even remotely remember the guidelines for fine motor skills.

    Anyway, a website I’ve recently become acquainted with answers the “What if he cuts himself?” question quite well, in my opinion:

    They also have this page:

    I’m not a current customer. In fact, I don’t plan to order anything from them until I get a chance to visit their showroom, but their advice seems to apply here.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Asking the important questions: Should I give my 2 year-old a knife?

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email