Education Occupational Therapy

Common Pencil Grip Problems

Your child’s pencil grip development might be a reason of concern and you might have come across immature pencil grips. An immature grip shows that your child is still going through the patterns of development and has not reached a mature efficient grip yet. This is part of his typical developmental pattern expected of his age. We should be careful not to confuse an immature grip with an inefficient or dysfunctional pencil grasp. On the contrary to an immature grip, an inefficient or dysfunctional pencil grip is related to poor development and often develops as a compensation for another weak skill.

Some of the most common immature pencil grip include:

  • Fist or Palmar grip over the age of 5 years
  • Lateral pencil grasp (Securing pencil by pressing thumb against index finger. No web space)
  • Thumb tuck (Thumb is tucked  under index finger with no web space)
  • Thumb wrap (Thumb is wrapped around the pencil and fingers)
  • Bent wrist position
  • Lack of wrist stability on desk 
  • Pencil shaft pointing away from the hand 
  • Switching between grasps for a child older than 5 years
  • Holding pencil with fingers on pencil shaft (Spreading all fingers along the pencil shaft and controls the pencil with their little finger
  • Holding pencil too tightly or too loose
  • Holds pencil too far up or too close to the tip

When to correct an inefficient pencil grip

Correcting an immature grip can be quite challenging and can have an impact on the child’s writing skills. We need to be very cautious as to when this is done. It is hard to change the grip in older children especially when writing patterns have also been established. One should consider to change a grip if:

  • It causes discomfort and the hand hurts when writing
  • The child is lacking behind in his writing tasks
  • If the grip makes writing inefficient.

Modifications and Strategies to Compensate for an immature pencil grasp

As discussed in the blog ‘Tips to promote a Functional Pencil Grip’, in the case of younger children the focus should be on promoting the development of hand skills prior to applying any other modifications. 

  • Carry out handwriting warm ups prior to writing

These activities will assist your child getting their hand and finger muscles ready for writing. Handwriting warm up exercises should support: shoulder stability, wrist strength, thumb and hand and finger strength, hand and finger dexterity. Activities to strengthen the core and shoulder muscles include; Wheelbarrow walk, animal walks, tug of war, climbing, playing on all fours, pulling activities and crawling. The following clip illustrates some handwriting warm up exercises which you can practice at home.

  • Rubber Band Method

In order to help your child correctly position the pencil, you can use this method.  Place one rubber band on the wrist, while the other is looped over the pencil. This will help to pull the pencil back. 

  • Writing on a sloping surface

Your child’s wrist position can have an impact on his endurance while writing. If this happens try using a slanted desk or slant board or vertical surface. 

  • Use shorter or thicker pencils.

Children who have a weak grasp tend to hold the writing tool using a fisted grip. They would benefit from smaller, shorter pencils or crayons to promote a good grasp. 

  • Promote the use of 3 fingers

In order to encourage your child to hold the pencil between the thumb, index and middle finger, you can prompt your child to hold a small pom pom or coin with the last two digits. This will assist your child to hold the pencil with the tripod grip while the other fingers will be closed and supporting the pom pom.

  • Sticker or rubber band on pencil shaft

If your child has difficulty to position his fingers correctly along the pencil shaft, you need to use a visual cue to act as a reminder. Use a sticker or rubber band to assist your child with finger positioning on the pencil.

Holding a Pencil | NHS GGC

  • Pencil grips

The use of pencil grips should be considered as a last resort. They can be helpful for some children however for others they result in an added distraction. Additionally, some children might take time to adjust to them making writing tasks even harder. The type of grip to be used should be recommended by your occupational therapist.

A word of Advice….

If you are in any way concerned about your child’s pencil grip, and need help to understand better your child’s developmental level or functionality pencil grip development, you need to consider an occupational therapy assessment . This will help figure out whether your child is compensating for other weak skills, or whether your child has missed out on some developmental stage along the way.

At WonderKids paediatric centre Malta we can help you out.