When is a Child Old Enough to Use the Stove or Oven?

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Because every child’s development and personality is different, there is no single rule that can determine when your child can be given responsibility for cooking. Here are some things to consider:

How old is your child?

Before the age of about 11 years old, children can’t really anticipate events they haven’t experienced. If something unexpected happens, they are unprepared. This has nothing to do with the child’s intelligence; it is simply normal brain development:

“Parents are often fooled by children of this age…Elementary school children are very good at following directions. If they are shown how to do something, most often they can perform even a complex chore correctly time and again—as long as the pattern remains the same.

What they are not good at is anticipating what might go wrong and how to respond if something does. So even if they can cook, and do so regularly, they need close supervision. If the grease catches on fire or a napkin falls across a burner, it is only by chance that they will respond quickly and appropriately.

Think about hiring a babysitter for your own children. Most people want a sitter who is older than elementary school age. They understand, intuitively, that one of the key responsibilities of a babysitter is to keep their children safe in an emergency – that is, to be able to respond if something unexpected happens. The Babysitting Training Courses sanctioned by the American Red Cross and the National Safety Council are designed for 11-to-15-year-olds, setting a national standard concerning the age of responsibility.” (Excerpted with permission from Juvenile Firesetting: A Community Guide to Prevention and Intervention.)

How well does your child comply with other types of rules?

Some children are more impulsive than others, some are more compliant, some are bigger risk-takers. A 14-year-old who is a risk-taker may not be ready to be given this responsibility while a more compliant 12-year-old is.

Have you taught your child clear rules about cooking, such as:

  1. Stay close to the stove and watch it carefully when you’re cooking food.
  2. Keep a pan’s lid and a dry oven mitt nearby, and know what to do if food or grease catches fire.
  3. Keep anything that can catch fire, including oven mitts, towels, wooden utensils, a safe distance from the stovetop.
  4. Turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge.
  5. Wear short, close fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
  6. Always use oven mitts when putting things in or taking things out of the oven.
  7. In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed

Note: be sure your child knows the rules for safe microwaving too.

Do you use safe techniques yourself when you cook?

What you do can be more important than what you tell a child. Leaving food cooking on the stove unattended not only creates an immediate hazard but tells children that fire needn’t be treated seriously.

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