Should Toddlers Be Using Knives?
After a video was shared to Facebook of a 2-year-old boy chopping vegetables with a knife, experts are weighing in — and disagreeing — on whether kids should be wielding sharp blades in the kitchen.
After a video was shared to Facebook of a 2-year-old boy chopping vegetables with a knife, experts are weighing in — and disagreeing — on whether young kids should be wielding sharp blades in the kitchen.
Mom Kathleen Frank shared a video of her 2-year-old son Quincy with parenting author Janet Lansbury, who posted the video to her Facebook page. The clip shows Quincy using a long, thin knife to cut cucumbers for the family dinner. The boy can be seen cutting a small piece of cucumber into chunks, with his tiny hands holding the vegetable and the handle of the knife. At one point, he places his other hand on top of the blade to help push it through the vegetable. He then dresses and mixes the salad.
"I think being given meaningful chores in family life communicates that you too — even as a toddler — have a role to play and a contribution to make," Frank told InsideEdition.com. "I wanted Quincy helping because I didn’t just want to occupy him while I did housework — it was far more engaging to actively involve him."
The video, titled “Kathleen’s capable boy,” has 1,400 reactions and 185 comments on Lansbury's page since it was posted at the beginning of January. Many of the comments express support for the mother and her child, commending his participation in family activities. Other users show concern, worrying the child could hurt himself.
Camille Becerra is a chef in New York City and does not think it’s safe for young kids to use knives, calling it “super dangerous.” She said accidents can happen, and she’s even seen a lot of bad cuts with her cooks at work. Some landed in the hospital because of the injuries.
“I don’t recommend it. … The threat of knives and really bad cuts are pretty bad,” she said.
Dr. Natalie Brito, a developmental psychology assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt, disagrees. She said toddlers are capable of being trained to safely use knives, citing cultural groups like hunter-gatherer communities that let young children work with sharp tools.
“Of course, like any task, young children need to be shown how to use the tool, given many chances to practice using the tool safely, and have an adult supervising,” Brito told InsideEdition.com, adding it was clear in the video that it was not the boy’s first time with a knife and that he had parental supervision.
In fact, it wasn't Quincy's first time using a knife, Frank confirmed. The mom said she first gave her son a banana and butter knife to practice, and they discussed how to safely use the tool. As Quincy became more familiar with the task, Kathleen became more confident in his ability.
"I wasn’t worried about him hurting himself because he takes his jobs very seriously and pays close attention—he’s very trustworthy," Kathleen said.
Food writer J.M. Hirsch told InsideEdition.com that he introduced his son to cooking early, and he offered tips for easing other kids into using kitchen cutlery.
He said “the rules are very simple”: Only one hand is allowed on the cutting board. And the knife can only be used when an adult is present.
Hirsch made it clear that this is not an opportunity to teach the child proper knife skills. It's an opportunity to help them feel a sense of accomplishment and responsibility, saying, “I don’t care what my cucumbers look like. ... I care that my son was there [helping]. Cucumbers are gonna taste like cucumbers however they're chopped."
Hirsch, who is the editorial director at Milk Street Magazine, added: “It turns what can be a chore into a time to come together. … Kids can do far more than we give them credit for and what we allow them to do. We are often surprised by what they can do."
Hirsch also showed off his tips with his son, now 14, in a video promoting his 2010 cookbook.
Brito confirmed that children can learn necessary skills and values while helping the family make dinner.
“Social bonding and routines are important elements of child development. Allowing a child to contribute to making dinner creates a social interaction between the child and caregiver, and also opens up the opportunity to teach the child … or even just a moment to talk to the child about their day or feelings,” she explained.
Lansbury added that getting kids in the kitchen is all about the parent "keeping an open mind, offering opportunities and supervising closely."
"With the caveat that knives (and kitchens) are dangerous for children without our supervision, there are extraordinary benefits to allowing our babies to attempt and practice skills that interest them. ... Children love to “do it themselves”. Small moments of mastery and accomplishment help them cope with age-appropriate toddler angst and frustrations. The happiest, most resilient, self-confident children are those who are respected as innately capable, encouraged to be active participants in their care (and life), and allowed to struggle and achieve whenever possible," she told InsideEdition.com.
However, Brito added that parents don’t have to start honing their offspring's knife skills right away.
“Sharp tools are not necessary to create this interaction though, and children can help contribute in many ways,” such as setting the table or pouring ingredients into bowls, she said.
As a mom, Becerra said she also knows the sense of responsibility kids want to have in the kitchen. She introduced her daughter to cooking very early as well, but she didn’t give her a knife right away, instead having her pick herbs for recipes.
Becerra suggested other ways to instill responsibility in young ones without reaching for the cleaver.
“Gathering ingredients is a really awesome thing,” she said, adding that kids can also measure, juice fruits, gather materials and read recipes.
“When I gave my daughter a recipe, … she took it on with a lot of care and, in turn, a lot of pride in knowing she was able to follow a recipe,” Becerra said.
Hirsch recognizes that not every parent wants to start their kids on sharp objects, and he also suggested alternatives, such as mixing, stirring, adding ingredients and washing vegetables.
In more videos of Quincy that Kathleen shared with InsideEdition.com, the boy can be seen breaking lettuce, cracking eggs and stirring.
When a parent feels their child is ready to graduate to a knife, Hirsch said, they should pick a manageable utensil and something that makes sense for their age and dexterity. That may not mean going right for the 10-inch chef knife, and instead choosing a smaller one with a rubber grip — much like how Kathleen started Quincy on a banana and butter knife.
"Kids are super different from each other and they all develop their competencies and different things at different times," Frank said, adding that "parents know what their kids are ready for."
And Hirsch reminds moms and dads to monitor the child carefully, saying it’s “not the time to take a phone call or walk out of the room. Give them advice.”
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