How to change an ineffective grip

Once a young child has a well established grip pattern it can be very difficult to change it. Older children on the other hand, are often quite ready to make the suggested changes when they see that it makes handwriting more fluent and less tiring. 

However whatever the age of the child, changing the grip takes patience and perseverance on the part of the teacher, the parent and the child. 

Basic steps

  1. Demonstrate and assist the child to adopt a more effective grip.
  2. Let the child practice maintaining the new grip when drawing long straight lines and curves 
  3. Once the child is able to maintain the grip for long lines for a few minutes drawing long lines, start to work on getting better finger action. Practice drawing circles in blocks as well as vertical and diagonal lines. 
  4. Lastly move on to drawing small shapes, letters and number with attention to finger action, fluency and pressure. 

Changing the grip configuration

Getting the ring and little finger to rest lightly in the palm of the hand

If the child tends to hold the pencil with 4 or 5 fingers, it is important to try and get the ring and little finger to rest lightly in the palm.

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Instruct the child to hold a marble-sized object in the palm using the ring and little finger. 

With these two fingers out of the way the child may find it difficult to to hold the pencil with the middle finger resting on top of the pencil and will naturally slide it behind the pencil to provide some stability. 

Changing a straight finger grip 

Getting a child with a straight finger grip to change the finger position can prove to be quite challenging. 

The best way is to start by changing the position of the thumb so that the thumb rests on the side of the forefinger rather than on the shaft pf the pencil.

This new position of the thumb makes it easier for the child to stabilize the pencil and get some finger flexion

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Changing a child's tendency to grip the pencil very tightly

A very tight  grip is often adopted by children with very hypermobile fingers who do not have the inherent stability needed for a dynamic tripod grip. 

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Sometimes the simple expedient of changing the thumb position will provide more stability and allow for effective finger movements. 

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Step 2: Practice maintaining the  new grip

The next step is top provide the child with ample opportunity for getting used to the new hand position, before introducing finger movements for making short lines and small shapes. 

The best way to do this is let the child draw long lines and large shapes using arm actions to produce the lines while keeping the grip stable and the wrist steady and straight. 

The end of the pen should point backwards past the shoulder. 

5 y 9m shoulder position for drawing.jpg     Lines down and cross Gr 1_1.jpg  

Providing prompts to correct the grip

Initially the child will have difficulty sustaining the newly learned hand position and quickly revert to the familiar grip.  You will need to provide prompts to alert him/her to grip. 

There are two ways to do this. The first is just to indicate to the child that the grip has changed using a brief and neutral prompt - such as saying "Grip"  or a brief sound such as clicking the fingers. The important thing is to keep these prompts very neutral and not to imply that the child is not paying attention or failing in some way. In other words do not nag! 

And do remember that changing a habit is not easy and takes time and dedication from both the child and the supervising adult. 

Once the child is maintaining the grip for longer periods of drawing, you can provide prompts every now and then that will remind the child to self-check that the new grip is being used. 

Step 3: Encouraging finger movements 

The next stage is to encourage the child to use finger movements to draw circles and lines, and then go to drawing small shapes and writing letters.

Training finger movements for drawing and handwriting

More about pencil grip and finger movements 


What is an effective pencil grip?  

Thumb position for an effective grip 

How to assess your child's pencil grip and finger movements

How to change an ineffective grip ► You are here

Training finger movements for handwriting

Handwriting Gym Online Handbook

SfA Therapist Resources & HWG Handbook 

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