Grip Tips – Help your child develop an age-appropriate grip

Grip Tips – Help your child develop an age-appropriate grip

Does your child hold their pencil or crayon with a “dead grip”? Is he holding it too lightly or is he only touching it with his fingertips? Is your child complaining that his arm hurts and he can’t do his homework at school?

As an occupational therapist in a school district, I often see children using inappropriate grips when writing. Why is pencil grip so important? The right pencil grip will directly affect your child’s handwriting. If his/her hand gets tired too quickly, they will not want to write by hand. Children will try to avoid handwriting altogether, which eventually affects their academics.

There are stages in the development of grips, just as a child learns to crawl before walking. The first stage is to hold the writing instrument like a fist, which is called a rough grip. This increases strength and stability in the pinky side of the hand. Stability is extremely important when a child is expected to write for long periods of time, years after development. The second stage is to hold the pencil with a digital pronate grip. This is where the child holds the pencil on top with thumb and forefinger and the palm of their hand is on the top of the pencil. This increases strength and dexterity in the first three fingers of the hand. Dexterity is extremely important to improve writing fluency and efficiency. The third stage is to hold the pencil at the tip with the eraser pointing up and the pencil handle resting in the space between the thumb and forefinger. This space is called web space. The web space should be open and free so as not to cause tension in the hand. In addition, the last 2 fingers of the hand should be tucked into the palm for stability (which was learned in the first stage). At this time, it is typical for the child to move his arm as a unit. He can also use his whole hand when coloring. This is acceptable if it is functional for his/her age level of development. The next stages involve this tripod grip. However, the main goal is to move only the fingertips while the hand and wrist are stable.

Now that you know the grip progression, what can you do to make those grips easier? The most effective GRIP TIP is to discard all long and thick writing instruments. Children have small hands and need to use small writing instruments. I highly recommend that you break all of your crayons into halves or thirds. Use golf pencils and sharpen them to be 2-3 inches long. Many parents and teachers are often shocked when asked to do this “stupid” thing. However, the result is usually worth it. If the writing instrument is long or tall, there is room for the child to hold it in all sorts of odd grips. If the instrument is short, there is only room for the first three fingers to hold it. This will ultimately promote a perfect tripod grip!

Now that you know how to promote writing dexterity, what happens when a child lacks stability? Usually a lack of stability is indicated by very sloppy writing, the print is very faint, or the child has difficulty writing the line. Another possibility is that the child is trying to compensate for the lack of stability by holding the pencil with a “dead grip”. This is when the child can overlap their fingers on other fingers. For example, a child may wrap their thumb across the front of a pencil and their index finger. This ultimately leads to a narrow web space. The child will tend to write with too much pressure, break the tip of the pencil or complain of pain in the hand after only a few minutes. An effective GRIP TIP to promote stability is to place a small object in the palm of your hand so that the last two fingers are holding the object. Any item would do as long as it is comfortable for the child. A popular item is to use a penny and call it a “magic penny”.

Please note that these techniques may cause hand fatigue when your child first tries them. This is because your child’s muscles are already trained to perform in a certain way. You end up retraining your child’s muscles. However, once your child’s muscles adapt, your child’s handwriting will be on the way to success!

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