I Gave My Toddler a Knife

Cynthia Dermody

My daughter is so cute when she tries to cut food. She's 4 and has just started asking to learn to use a knife, which is a relief. I'll grab any opportunity to pass off another duty.

But my right-handed girl can't understand the concept of using her less dominant hand yet, so when she tries to cut her fish sticks or chicken, she'll hold the dinner knife in her right hand and start sawing away. But then she doesn't know what to do with the fork, so it sort of dangles floppily in her left hand, and doesn't do a very good job of restraining the meat, which is still intact and sliding all over the plate.

If she lived in Ireland with her grandparents, this Continental style would be correct (her technique aside). The Irish, as well as the Brits and most Europeans, hold their forks with the tines facing down in their left hands and sort of push or pile food on top of it with their knives, in their right hands. Then you eat from the fork in your left hand.

This is also the proper etiquette in America, though once the meat is cut and loaded, you'd put the knife down and transfer the fork to your right hand.

Someone tried to teach me Continental dining style when I was younger. I even had it down for a while. I felt like Lady Di every time I sat down to the table. But I've since gone back to my lazy, uncouth ways, single-handedly scooping and shoveling food into my mouth as fast as it will go, because that's how busy moms eat most of the time.

I'm going to let my daughter learn to use her knife however she feels comfortable, in the hopes I'm also reducing the chances of injury. Even butter knives can hurt, and I need to keep her as far away from the ER as possible.

Does your toddler know how to cut his or her own food yet with a knife? At what age will you give a dinner knife to your child? Will you teach them the American, Continental, or the Do-What-You-Gotta-Do dining style?


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