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That Time The 6-Year-Old I Was Babysitting Started Playing With Sharp Kitchen Knives

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Should I let my 4-year-old son use knives to carry out routine kitchen tasks?

Yesterday I was babysitting an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old neighbor for their mother, who had to do a half-hour errand. The older child asked me to help with homework. The younger one was playing with little cars in the living room.

We looked at the homework for less than 2 minutes. The younger one’s silence alerted me. I looked around the corner to see what was up. She wasn’t there! Hearing sounds coming from the kitchen, I dashed there.

The 6-year-old was standing on a stool, chopping a carrot on a block of wood, and holding a ridiculously large, sharp, and long knife. It was a carving knife.

“Put that knife down on the counter,” I said. It seemed a matter of urgent safety to me. The child shrugged and put the knife down, scooped up the chopped carrots, and began munching them.

Soon mom returned. I asked, “Are your children allowed to handle and cut with the sharp carving knife in your kitchen?”

“Yes,” she said — she was smiling and proud. “I taught them how to use knives safely when they were younger and now they help me prep dinner by cutting vegetables.”

I immediately turned to the 6-year-old to apologize. “I’m sorry I made you put that knife down. I did not know it was okay with your mom for you to use it. I’m glad you know how to use it properly. Will you please forgive me for not knowing you knew how to use a knife, and asking you to put it down? I was trying to keep you safe and I’m glad you love me enough to listen to me even when I’m mistaken; I was afraid because most kids your age are not trained in knife safety — but I am glad and relieved you already knew how to be safe.”

The 6-year-old now sitting on the sofa looked up from reading a book, and smiled at me.

The age of a child is not the determining factor in knowing when to teach knife safety. Finger dexterity and strength, maturity, ability to focus, ability to follow directions, lack of impulsivity, and the culture of parents to teach and supervise knife safety and knife handling techniques when cutting various things in the kitchen are more important factors in determining when to teach a child how to use a knife safely.

Nan Waldman is an accomplished writer whose work has been published by Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Business Insider. You can read more Quora posts here:

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