Fine motor difficulties in children

Children who have difficulties with fine motor skills often experience frustration with many everyday activities we take for granted. An activity that would normally be fun for a child, such as coloring a picture or playing a game with small pieces, can lead to a very unhappy experience for a child with fine motor issues.

A child experiencing fine motor delays often has weak musculature in the small, intrinsic muscles of their hands. This can be due to poor or slow development, a disability or injury before, during or after birth, weakness, or other complications.   

First question we need to ask is what are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills involve the use of the fingers and hands to complete various small work activities such as holding a pencil or crayon, opening a container of milk, manipulating buttons and zippers, or cutting with scissors. Having efficient fine motor skills affects the speed and quality of the activities outcome. Proficient fine motor skills require a variety of independent skills to occur simultaneously to appropriately manipulate the object or perform the task.

What’s the importance of fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills are essential for performing everyday activities for self care and academic skills. When a child struggles with these every day activities, their frustration levels can increase and their self esteem and academic performance can suffer. They may become so frustrated that they lose interest or refuse to take part because they’re just too difficult to complete independently.

Being able to appropriately complete fine motor activities involves a variety of different skills;

Bilateral Integration: Using two hands together in a coordinated manner such as catching a ball, stabilizing paper when writing, or buttoning a shirt.

Crossing Mid-line: Reaching across the middle of ones body to retrieve an item and bring back to the

original side.

Hand and finger strength: The ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers which

allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement.

Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and

direct the hands and fingers in the performance of a fine motor activity. This could include lacing

projects or threading beads on string.

Hand Dominance: Developing the primary and consistent use of one hand for task performance which

allows refined skills to develop.

Dexterity and Object Manipulation: The ability to skillfully manipulate tools and small pieces with

control and efficiency. This may include placing coins in a bank, screwing a nut on a bolt, or using a knife

and fork to cut and eat food.

Sensory motor and Body Awareness: Information that the brain receives from our muscles and joints to

make us aware of our body position and body movement, so we can accurately control our movements.

How can I tell if my child has difficulties with fine motor skills?

Any of the following may suggest issues with fine motor skills

-An awkward or immature pencil grasp for their age.

-Messy, slow or laborious drawing, coloring or writing skills.

-Fatigue quickly when typing or using a mouse on a computer.

-Difficulties using scissors and other classroom tools.

-Difficulties with object manipulation tasks, such as using buttons or tying shoelaces.

-Frustration with hand and eye coordination tasks.

-Difficulties performing age appropriate self-care tasks independently.

-Difficulties mastering new fine motor activities.

-Fatigues easily when engaged in fine motor activities.

What other problems can occur when a child has fine motor difficulties?

Behavior: They may avoid or refuse to participate in fine motor activities.

Self esteem: They may compare their work against their peers and become frustrated.

Academic performance: They may be slow completing fine motor activities contributing to slower skills acquisition.

-Self care: They may have difficulties mastering daily life activities, such as dressing, eating, cleaning teeth, and brushing hair.

-Avoidance: Preferring to get others to perform fine motor tasks for them rather than actually doing themselves.

What can be done to improve fine motor skills?

-Determine hand dominance and reinforce the dominant hand use in precision task performance.

-Encourage participation in activities that involve grasping and manipulating small objects such as drawing, playing games with small pieces, and opening containers.

-Praise and encouragement when your child engages in fine motor activities, especially if they are persistent when finding an activity difficult.

-Hand and finger strength using things like tweezers, play dough, or squeezing a stress ball.

-Sensory play activities such as finding hidden items in a container of rice or finger painting to assist the development of tactile awareness.

– Practice activities that involve hand-eye coordination such as throwing and catching a ball and crossing the mid-line.

-Encourage play activities that develop upper limb strength such as climbing ladders or wheelbarrow walking.

What activities can help improve fine motor skills?

-Threading and lacing with a variety of sized laces.

-Play-doh or putty activities such as rolling with hands or a rolling pin, hiding objects such as coins in the play dough or just creative construction.

-Scissor projects such as cutting out geometric shapes or lines, cutting different media such as aluminum foil, brown paper bags, or putty.

-Tongs or tweezers to pick up objects.

-Drawing or writing. Use small, broken crayons to improve and promote a pincer grasp.

-Craft projects such as making things using old boxes, egg cartons, glitter, paper, glue and masking tape.

-Stringing beads, using clothes pins, placing coins into a bank or container, tearing or crumbling paper.

If left untreated what can difficulties with fine motor skills lead to?

-An inability to meet preschool or school aged academic criteria due to poor pencil skills or use of classroom tools as well as rapid fatigue.

-Difficulties writing their own name, drawing age appropriate shapes, mastering letter and number formation, etc.

-Excessive pressure and anxiety in a school-aged child due to difficulties ‘keeping up’ in class.

-Completing worksheets, classroom activities or tests in a timely manner.

-Poor self esteem when a child compares their abilities with their peers.

-Difficulty manipulating items for construction such as puzzles, and Lego pieces.

Why should I seek therapy if I notice my child is having fine motor difficulties?

Therapeutic intervention may be needed depending on the severity of your child’s fine motor needs. Occupational therapy treatment will…

-Increase hand strength, dexterity, precision and control.

-Increase school readiness skills for your child’s emotional comfort and ease of transition.

-Help a child to develop age appropriate self care skills.

-Avoid frustrations experienced by parents, teachers and children when the child is struggling to remain engaged in academic activities.

-Help develop and maintain the child’s positive sense of well being and confidence.

-Kindergarten readiness and ensuring that the child doesn’t fall behind their peers in development of handwriting, drawing, use of classroom tools, etc.