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Nov 10, 2011 07:08 PM

At what age should you let a child handle a kitchen knife to help with food prep? [moved from Home Cooking]]

My niece came to visit last week. We don`t have kids. Her mom (my SIL) was with her. My SIL said `Janey can help with the chopping for dinner`. Janey is 11 years old. I felt a bit uncomfortable with this -- I know the damage a sharp knife can do and I don`t know her kitchen skills. So I did the meal myself. But Janey and my SIL were offended that I didn`t hand my 8 inch Chef`s knife over so that Janey could chop the mushrooms and green peppers for the pizza.
It got me to thinking: what age is appropriate for kids to begin to handle knives in the kitchen? When did you hand over a sharp (or dull -- gasp!) knife to a child to help with prep work?

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  1. I think that's going to depend on the maturity of the kid. I have an 11 (or twelve, I forget) year old niece whom I showed how to mince a shallot just last weekend, and I was not the slightest bit concerned for her, because we had already given her the full run-down on knife safety long before that. Honestly, you'd be surprised how many more grownups don't pay attention to knife technique. In my opinion, the sooner you get kids used to working with them, the better off you are.

    5 Replies
    1. re: gilintx

      Ditto and then some. No 2 kids are alike and there's no magic age for being responsible. I'd defer to the sister in law. It seems like a quick follow up question or two ("does she do this for you at home?" "is she comfortable with knives?") would have resolved the matter.

      1. re: ferret

        At the end of the day, though, I just wasn't comfortable with this, knowing my SIL and my niece (they often aka routinely exaggerate skills and skill sets)...thought I'd err on the side of safety. Of course, what they do in their home is their thing, but the last thing I'd want is an ER visit on my watch (and on my homeowners/medical insurance)...

        1. re: freia

          your kitchen, your judgement, your rules.

      2. re: gilintx

        Our son is now thirteen and we bought him is own "small" kitchen knife when he was around ten 'cause he was all of a sudden interested. He's now on to a larger style and I'm impressed with his interest and skill. All they need is a little lead and...


        1. re: gilintx

          Yup, depends on the child. We gave our daughter her own 6-inch chef's knife when she was six years old. It's only now that she's 9 that I don't stand over her every moment when she's using it. There have been lots of talks about knife safety and how to hold your hands properly when using a knife, so many reminders that she's sick of hearing it by now. Still, she's yet to cut herself once while using a knife. I, on the other hand, cut myself yesterday while slicing a roll to make a sandwich. Maybe I need to listen to my own talks.

          Btw, I cooked lunch with my child's class 2 years ago. A few of the 3rd graders were very comfortable and adept with chef's knives and most of the 1st and 2nd graders could use paring knives safely.

        2. Age has nothing to do with it; small motor skills do. Varies from kid to kid. (And even adult to adult.)

          6 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            But surely there's a limit? I mean, how do you assess these motor skills? My child can color between the lines, so let her have the knife, doesn't matter that she's 5? I'm sure there's gotta be an age before which you wouldn't consider this...

            1. re: freia

              Walker has amazing motor skills and I wasn't comfortable till he was what I think of as an older child. What really cinched it for my wife and I was how interested he was in the prep of what he was really enjoying eating. That was way earlier than we let him loose with a knife though.



              1. re: pikawicca

                And focus. At age 13 I was slicing a lemon as usual, and somehow let the knife slip on the lemon's skin and it punched into my middle finger on the hand steadying the lemon. Three hours in the ER to get to the point in line where I finally received my stitches.

                Don't know whether adults focus more or better than kids - I'd guess adults have better focus on average, but a moment's inattention can happen to anyone. I've heard bagel-slicing injuries are one of the most frequent reasons people go to hospital emergency rooms.

                Although my own kids (one is about the age of your niece) often help out in the kitchen - grating, measuring and adding ingred.s, mixing, minding whatever's on the stove - one has made zucchini bread and a few other things by herself), still I'm not yet comfortable with them slicing with sharp knives. I think it does depend on the child, but also on the parent's comfort zone.

                1. re: Julia_T

                  I suggest to parents who want their children to miss childhood, and become adults in warpspeed at age 11, to include knife skills: do what divers do - break the tip off the training knife, to at least reduce the risk of puncture and stab wounds and reduce the EMR bleed out admissions by half.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Well good, at least you aren't overreacting or anything.

                    Oh wait, you are.

              2. When my niece lived with me I started teaching her to help in the kitchen at 7. I bought a smaller, lighter, relatively cheap chef's-style knife for her because mine was too large and heavy for her.

                I'd have deferred to my SIL's assessment. In fact, in similar circumstances I'd have just asked the kid to help and I would have been surprised and dismayed if she couldn't chop mushrooms and green peppers without cutting herself. When I was 11 I could make my family's entire dinner unassisted.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ourswimmer

                  Maybe it because I lived on a farm but we started helping out in the kitchen around five peeling potatoes with a paring knife!!!! eight I was doing full dinners for my my self. Now I have a 7 year old he has one of those plastic type chef knives that he uses. I wish he did more but my husband had a mother that never let him do anything and he is way more over protective than I am.

                2. If you are worried about her knife skills, maybe you could have her use a small pairing knife to cut something soft like mushrooms before you let her use the bigger knives. Not all kids are clueless around knives. When I was your niece's age, I had better knife skills than most adults. My mom has carpal tunnel and whenever anything needed to be chopped/diced/chiffoned, I was the one doing it.

                  1. SIL, surrounded by adults, volunteers her 11 year old daughter to perform the highest risk task of the evening? Was Janey an unplanned child? You control your kitchen. Period.

                    23 Replies
                    1. re: Veggo

                      I object to your comments about a child using a knife - clearly it is about training in using one properly. Yes, the OP has every right not to allow Janey to use the knife to help, but if her SIL let her know that she knew how to use one, then no problem.
                      I was using knives in my mom's kitchen by the time I was 7 - with teaching and supervision because I WANTED to learn to cook - it is my greatest childhood memory of sharing the kitchen with her. By the time I was 12 I was subscribing to Bon Appetit, and had my first catering company at the age of 14!
                      If children want to and are interested in helping in the kitchen - including using knives, and their parents deem them mature enough for whatever task is appropriate to their growing skill, it can add imesurably to their life-long appreciation of a varied diet, including eating more vegetables at an earlier age (gardening is a big help with this also), as well as creating wonderful family together time.

                      1. re: gingershelley

                        See, the thing is, I don't KNOW what Janey's skills really are. I only know what my SIL says they are. And SIL wasn't prepared to supervise, leaving me in the position of:
                        1. Assuming Janey's skills were good
                        2. Supervising every step of the prep and
                        3. Intervening and "teaching" if you will as required.
                        This wasn't a teaching moment. Nor was it my job to assess Janey's skills.
                        What was interesting is that I said that I had a TON of prep work to do quickly, so it would be most helpful if Janey could mix the veggies in a bowl, season them, and help my husband with the table setting, I was refused. It was "gimme the knife" or nothing. It was very odd, but I stand by my decision. I'm not taking the responsibility of assessing and supervising an 11 year old's knife skills while I'm trying to get dinner ready for guests. She can train up at her home, not mine.

                        1. re: freia

                          Too bad the two of you couldn't have found a way to work together. I think being the person who teaches another how to good is one of the great gifts and would be thrilled to do that for any of my nieces or nephews, even if it meant delaying the completion of dinner. I too have no children so look forward to passing on my cooking skills to anyone who is interested.

                          1. re: freia

                            I agree with your approach to this. You know your SIL and niece. We don't. But what's telling to me is her refusal to do anything but the knifework when you as hostess had asked for some other kind of help. This speaks to me of a less than teachable spirit and I would not be comfortable handing a knife over to a child like that.

                            And as a mother, I'd be seriously annoyed if my own child refused to help in the way the host requested.

                            1. re: Isolda

                              Agreed. Given all those circumstances, you made the right call. Sometimes kids who are poorly behaved around their parents can learn to behave well in certain circumstances, though. Maybe another chance will come up when you aren't in such a hurry, and you can give Janey a little CTJ. . . "I'd love to have you help me in the kitchen, but it's important that we be safe. If you ignore what I tell you, we have to stop. If you listen carefully, you can use the sharp knife." Kids tend to gravitate toward people who show enough self respect not to kowtow to them, and her desire to use the knife in the first place might indicate that she actually does want to help out and feel proud of herself.

                            2. re: freia

                              Were you on your way to some other activity?
                              Did you have other guests than Janey and her mom?

                              Sorry, but I'm not seeing how it is harmful to take five minutes, give her a paring knife, and watch her carefully to see if she really can handle it (you'll know in seconds).

                              I'm not saying this is you...but when I was teaching kids to cook, I saw an awful lot of parents who said "oh, my kid can't do..." -- when they could, but they were learning, so they couldn't do it as fast as mom or dad, who just took away the utensils and did it themselves, completely forgetting that THEY weren't fast at it when they first were learning, either.

                              Be patient -- kids will almost always surprise you with what they're capable of -- especially if you give them a little of your time and attention and encouragement.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Yup, actually we were having a number of people over. I personally wasn't in the head space to provide a teaching moment for Janey that her mom could/should do at her place.
                                See, the thing is, this is kind of a habit. Janey's mom treats Janey like a princess, and what Janey wants, Janey gets, and what Janey doesn't feel like doing, well she doesn't do it regardless of if SIL is there. Its really odd, but there is NO give and take. I recall being at SILs place for dinner and Janey was playing video games, and when it came time to set the table, yours truly was asked to set the table because Janey refused to help (she was busy). Given this odd family interaction, I really didn'tt want to take responsibility for Janey because I know she won't take direction, doesn't listen, SIL would conveniently disappear at the startto do something else, and if things went horribly south, yours truly would be in court. Seriuosly.

                                1. re: freia

                                  Well, after all this further info I certainly think Freia, you took the only reasonable course of action.
                                  When I was growing up, helping set the table, clearing, loading the dishwasher (which we didn't have until high school btw!), were PART of family responsibilities, and even more certain, if you were at someone else's house and offered or were asked to help get the meal on or off the table, you did it.
                                  That is called manners and good etiquette, as well as basic life skills in cooperation. I am sorry your niece isn't getting those lessons at home.

                                  1. re: freia

                                    well then this isnt about when a child is ready....but I am wondering why you dont think your brother is at fault too...

                                    1. re: LaLa

                                      LOL my brother wasn't there as its not my side of the family. And since I'm the one in the kitchen I get to handle the "pointy end" of the kitchen questions regardless of whose side of the family is in the kitchen at that time.

                                    2. re: freia


                                      Should have read this before responding to your original question.
                                      Obviously, there are dynamics at play with your SIL and your niece that go far beyond the question of whether it's okay to give an 11 year old a knife to cut vegetables.

                                    3. re: sunshine842

                                      I agree wholeheartedly sunshine842.

                                    4. re: freia

                             didnt state any of that in your op....

                                      "chopping mushrooms and peppers for pizza" is not "a ton of prep work"
                                      You,your SIL and Janey were all that you mentioned...which sounds like a "hey aunt Freia is making pizza" can we help???

                                      if you dont like the tone of some the answers based on the original post...then make a better one next time....

                                      1. re: srsone

                                        Actually, I think the question was "what age do you let kids handle knives", not "please judge me on how I dealt with the situation" which is why I didn't bother to detail the whole event. The only question I asked was "at what age should kids handle knives", not "should Janey have received a teaching lesson in kinfe work, not "should I have given Janey a paring knife", and not "do you think I did the right thing". The question was simple...the answers do seem to be going a bit off track into the judgement arena., not something I was expecting nor was I expecting to have to justify my decision. Because a judgement on my decision wasn't part of the question.
                                        And ya, pizza on the bbq using fresh, home made dough for 12, blanched and peeled roma tomatoes done by hand, and with a side salad (not out of a bag), and glazed bbq'd fruit skewers with yogort dipping sauce is a ton of prep work.
                                        And no it wasn't a "hey could we help" it was "hey, Janey wants to chop the veggies give her the knife"...after all, when I said, well I have a ton of stuff to prep could you help season the veggies and set the table? I was refused....

                                        1. re: freia

                                          Welcome to the NAF Board. To paraphrase the Michael Caine line in "The Eagle Has Landed," - The time has come Mr. Devlin, when I longer control the thread, the thread controls me.

                                          1. re: scoopG

                                            LOLOL so true, as a new poster, I'm now learning the ins and outs so to speak...

                                          2. re: freia

                                            Okay -- none of that was in your OP -- so you can't blame us for forming an opinion based on partial information.

                                            You have a valid point...and (collectively) a lot more issues than whether or not Janey's old enough to use a knife.

                                            1. re: freia

                                              what age do you let kids handle knives? 11 is old enough.
                                              With a paring knife, I would go to 9.

                                              Since you ended up as the mean aunt anyway, you could have used that as a teaching moment by introducing her to the joys of cleaning up after one's self. No walking away.

                                              That would quash any desire to chop stuff... lol.

                                            2. re: srsone

                                              I think we've moved from children using kitchen knives into family dynamics where it sounds like the knives are out on a regular basis. Hope everyone enjoyed the pizza.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                The knives are certainly out on this thread LOLOL!
                                                Everyone did enjoy the pizza...I finally mastered the technique of putting fresh rolled pizza dough on a preheated bbq grill (no pan), then flipping it, then dressing it.. And if you get a smoke box going, it comes out like wood fired pizza...
                                                MMmmm now I'm hungry

                                                1. re: freia

                                                  A total side note. You might be interested in the book Cucina Simpatica, written in 1991, that is written by the couple who became world famous for their wood grilled pizza. Their recipes are wonderful.

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    OOH I'm going to find that! Thanks escondido!

                                                    1. re: freia

                                                      I just got a copy to give as a wedding present on Amazon. Don't skip the ultra rich pasta with four cheeses or the sweet sour sausage roasted with grapes.