Should you let a toddler use a food knife?

This is, I know, likely to be a controversial question. Our children were given a full set of cutlery at a young age (we bought one of those cute kiddie sets of knives, forks, spoons). At family mealtimes, we demonstrate cutlery-handling skills to our children. Admittedly, our younger daughter still has some issues with positioning her food knife at mealtimes, but she’s got the basic idea.

This is partly a cultural issue: little children in France are used to using food knives, which are always on the table at mealtimes. It’s an expectation that even little children should know how to use a knife (and I think the same is true in Italy, Spain, and lots of other European countries).

Why would we want young children to learn to handle a food knife at a young age?

First, it teaches them a useful social skill. I remember still being awkward with a knife and fork in my late teens, and I still cringe at the memories.

Second, kids learn fine motor skills which are transferable–holding a knife and cutting aren’t that dissimilar to cutting paper with scissors, or even writing.

Third, it teaches them manners and respect for their food: in our house, only a few foods are ‘finger foods’.

Fourth, it’s less messy!

Fifth, it’s a safety issue: I teach my children how to walk with a knife (pointed down, parallel to the leg), and dangers associated with cutting in certain ways. (I admit that I’m a fan of that book “50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do)).

Last but not least, knife-handling teaches children independence. For example, our older daughter (now seven) is now skilled at chopping food. Recently, a guest came over to the house, and (without being asked) she went into the kitchen and chopped him some fresh apple slices, which she brought out to him on a plate. (I admit to being proud and a little surprised!)

My kids are proud that they know how to use a knife. I survey my toddler, but the older one is free to use her judgment. And (at least so far), she’s shown really good judgment.

Do you let your kids use knives? And how young do you think they should start?