Few of us have forgotten our first pocket knife, especially if we were Cub Scouts or Brownies! We learned how to shave wood for kindling, and, more importantly, how to sharpen a stick to hold a marshmallow or hotdog once the campfire was lit!
It’s difficult to know when to give your child their first pocket knife, but, as parents, you’ll need to use your best judgment, based on your child’s level of dexterity and maturity level—usually at about 7 or 8 years old. One good way to do this is to give them a pair of child’s scissors (with a rounded end), or a butter knife and see how well they can manipulate the tool, as well as how well they follow your instructions.
Even before you give your child a pocket knife, let them know knives are part of our daily lives. These include kitchen knives, flatware knives, pocket knives, hunting knives, utility knives, and many other types. Our children learn by example, so, if they see us doing something, they are sure to imitate.
A good way to introduce kids to knives is to show them, under supervision, how to use them. Start out small with a butter knife, and teach them how to use it to butter their own bread. Once they (and you) are comfortable with this, start to teach them how to use culinary knives. This skill is not only an excellent way to start to introduce them to outdoor knives, but it is a life skill that will benefit them!
With your child standing on a stepstool, teach them how to use a paring knife to cut up some fruits or vegetables (start with something softer than raw carrots). Teach them how to hold the knife, and then put your hand over theirs. Warn them about keeping their fingers away from the blade as they use it. As they mature, show them what your other kitchen knives are for and gradually teach them how to use them.
It's also a good policy to explain to them how dangerous a knife can be, but don’t make knives taboo. Nothing makes a kid want something more than when you tell them it is forbidden!
Teach Them Respect for the Blade
Although knives are important tools that mankind has used for thousands of years, they can be very dangerous. Teach your kids early:
- Never try to catch a falling knife.
- Never throw a knife.
- If you are carrying a knife, make sure the tip of the blade is pointing down.
- Always cut away from yourself.
- Never try to cut something that is resting in your lap or your other hand.
- Don’t test the sharpness of a blade on a body part.
- Use the right knife for the job. You’ll be less likely to have an accident.
- Always use a cutting board. A knife is less likely to slip.
One of the more important things you can teach your child is how to safely care for a knife. Cleaning the blade is very important. Dirty blades can spread infection, get rusty, and damage folding mechanisms on pocket knives. Folding knives should always be folded, and fixed blade knives should always be sheathed when not in use.
Blade sharpness is also key. Although it seems anti-intuitive, a dull blade is much more dangerous than a sharp one. When using a dull blade, you need to exert more force on the knife to accomplish your task. Your chances of slipping are greater with a dull knife, and, if you do slip, you are using more pressure on the knife, which can result in a very deep cut or gash.
You may want to wait until your child is a little older before teaching them how to sharpen a knife, but tell them that if their knife seems dull to come to you and ask you to sharpen it.
Your Child’s First Pocket Knife
Once you have decided to give your child their first pocket knife, teach them how to hold the knife correctly and firmly and to cut away from themselves, and never to walk or run with the blade exposed.
Most teenagers can handle a knife unsupervised, but, until you are completely comfortable with that, any knife use should be strictly supervised. Many parents have given their children their first pocket knives, but only let their children use them for scouting or camping. Again, their maturity level is the most important factor in your decision.
Knives are useful tools, and we use them for all sorts of things, from making dinner, to hunting, to surgery. Instill in your child a respect for the blade and that knives are tools, not toys. These are invaluable skills they will carry with them their entire lives.