Imagine that you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and the phone rings. Looking at the screen, you see it’s probably important so you put down the knife on the cutting board next to all those diced onions, wipe the tear from your eye, and say “hello”. In walks your toddler. What do you do? Do you worry about the knife?
What if instead of simply stressing to keep our children away from knives and dangerous items, we taught our children live with a healthy respect of items that could hurt them?
It could mean less worry in the long run because instead of feeling like everything has to be put away in the story of dinner and a phone call, you’re actually bringing attention to the knife to remind them to stay safe around an object that could cause them harm.
As parents, it’s our job to protect our kids from harm; including the dangers around the house. This can include a variety of dangerous household items like scissors, chemicals, tools, knives, and breakables. Hiding these items or locking them up is fine when you have an infant or toddler running around, but once your child is old enough to grasp the concept of danger, it’s time to teach care and safety instead of avoid.
Let’s be honest, even though we want to create the safest environment possible for our kids, things happen. Therefore, dangerous items aren’t the enemy to our children. The antagonist in the battle between our families and dangerous items is ignorance and unfamiliarity. Even if you’re the parent with all the baby-proofing items and would prefer that it was socially acceptable to encase a child in bubblewrap, there’s still a healthy place to learn proper care.
What do I mean?
Ignorance is defined as not knowing or the lack of knowledge and information. Therefore, when raising our children, the goal is to equip them with knowledge and know-how rather than shelter them from important skills.
When should you introduce knife and cutting skills to kids?
By the time children reach the age of 4, most kids understand that there is a process to how something works or a method to how it is done. They also mostly recognize what’s safe, what is dangerous, and the things that could cause them harm. By this point, they can also understand directions in a more meaningful way. So if you haven’t started before age 4, it is the perfect time to start teaching them how to handle the items that require special car.
For us, we actually begin around 18 months to 2 years old.
Because we want to involve them in the cooking process and because we believe the more supervised and safe interactions they have with sharp, hot, or dangerous items, the more responsible they will be if they encounter them outside those moments.
We start with a crinkle cutter that uses both hands and then a knife with a finger hole.
Here are example of what we enjoy using. Click on the images to be taken to the products. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Talk to them about what danger is
It may seem like a simple approach, but talking to your child is the best way to get the point across. If you keep all of your cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink, show them that area and talk to them about the dangers of using these items. Explain that these items are for older kids and grown-ups only. As they start to develop the ability to handle chores, begin teaching the proper way to use these supplies and the importance of not breathing in any fumes.
Do the same with the tool box and knife drawer, with matches and fire, with anything that could be an immediate threat to their wellbeing. Explain that these items can hurt them and should only be touched with adult supervision. But furthermore, how to actually handle them when supervised or in emergencies.
Let their curiosity drive the conversation so that maybe they can hold the screwdriver or feel the heft of the hammer. Let them gently touch their finger to the tip of the knife so they can understand it’s sharpness. Show them how to properly hold the items away from themselves.
Forgo simply avoiding danger
Children find curiosity in the things that are kept from them. The questions start rolling like “Why?” “How?” “Why not?” ” Can I?” “Does it?” etc. and instead of avoiding what they have been told might hurt them, they’re drawn to it like a bug to a light.
When we introduce dangerous items, we show them exactly how we use them. What this does is model that even adults can get hurt. It also brings our kids into the fold, like a special treat or occasion that they can explore, ask questions, and feel included. Thus through conversation and experience together, it creates natural boundaries while squelching the most dangerous curiosities.
Give them practice versions or set times to use the real thing
Teach your child how to handle sharp objects like scissors and knives, even tools, by buying them play versions to practice with. Get safety scissors that don’t have sharp points. Buy a cutlery set made specifically for little hands. This will allow them to work alongside you while you use the real thing and allow them the opportunity to practice the proper usage.
We personally believe in letting them use real glass dishes, real knives, real everything.
And you know what?
Teaching them that things break or that knives are sharp has been surprisingly easy and effective. We’ve only had 1 broken bowl and a couple of cups break. Every time the kids stood still and called for help, knowing that it could cut them. And in the 7 years and 4 kids of using these methods we have never had a cut finger — Just some hair… twice.
Use the two-hand rule for sharp objects
The two hand rule for us is to be aware of both hands.
Because with actions like sewing with a real needle require just one hand to stitch but being aware of where the second hand is in relation to the point.
When holding breakable items, teach your child to hold it with two hands only so they can get a good grasp on it with their little hands. Show them how to hold or touch an item with care so it doesn’t fall and break. Explain how items can be easily broken when dropped and that the broken glass can hurt them.
And when cutting, start with a knife or tool that requires both hands. You’ll notice in the two recommended tools we mentioned above, they use both hands in some way. The crinkle cutter put both hands on the handle. The chef knife has finger grips and hand holds.
Plan activities like Camping that have some level of danger but requires everyone pitches in to help
Using a hammer to drive in a tent spike. Cooking at a campfire. Whittling a stick. Climbing trees or rocks.
These are all things that kids can learn from in terms of having a healthy respect for objects and circumstances that are dangerous. And camping is the perfect time to give time and attention to ensuring our kids understand. This is because we’re all working together but we’re also talking, having fun, and not distracted by the things happening at home.
Practice and discuss proper handling
There are stories all the time about kids and weapons or children consuming medications, poison, and more. One of the best things we can do is to actually talk out the precautions we take as we do them.
For instance in the workshop you could say something like: “I am switching the safety on the saw so that I do not get hurt and you don’t either.”
When we practice and talk out safety our kids learn and we remember.
How do you teach care for dangerous items?
Sign up for our newsletter
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!