Development of the pincer grasp

It’s tempting to get caught up in Baby’s flashier physical skills – learning to walk, or climbing stairs, or even just scootching around backwards on their bottom are all exciting, video-worthy accomplishments that also tend to distract from everything else by sending you scrambling to make sure your baby-proofing measures are still up to the job. Some of the motions they're working on that are quite literally smaller, though, like the motion of their little thumb and pointer finger, are laying the groundwork for every time they hold a pencil or pen for the rest of their life.

This doesn’t mean that how fast Baby masters the pincer grasp has anything to do with their eventual report card, but the way they are developing the small muscles in their hands is going to be a crucial part of the process when Baby starts to learn to write a few years down the road, and the pincer grasp is an important milestone towards that development.

What is the pincer grasp?

The pincer grasp is the developmental step that comes after the way Baby first learned to pick up small objects – by raking them towards them with their fingers and then picking them up in their fist. This is the grip they have probably started out using for self-feeding and for playing with smaller toys. The pincer grasp, which babies tend to develop between 6 months and a year old, though most often somewhere in the 8 or 9-month range, is much more precise, since it lets babies pick up individual small objects between their thumb and forefinger or middle finger.

The pincer grasp is an important first step towards their eventual ability to write, and it’s a piece of fine motor development that will help them with lots of tasks that need a bit more precision in their more immediate future, from pressing buttons to self-feeding.

How can I encourage it?

Strictly speaking, Baby is probably well on their way to developing the pincer grasp all on their own already, without your help. On the other hand, though, it can’t hurt to point them in the right direction, and if they're self-feeding, developing the pincer grasp could help keep mealtime a little bit neater, though it may also take a little longer, at least at first.

One of the key ingredients in a successful pincer grasp is Baby’s strength and muscle control in their pointer finger, and just like the name suggests, one of the best ways to build that up is by working on pointing with them. Since pointing is also an important pre-verbal step toward communication, you may have already started pointing things out to Baby, and encouraging them to point with you to show, for example, which page of your favorite board book has a cat on it, or which car you’re heading towards in the parking lot. You can also help Baby improve their pointing skills by encouraging them to poke holes in play dough, or push buttons on their toys.

Other activities that encourage the pincer grasp and help build up the muscles Baby will need for it include drawing with crayons or markers (don’t worry if they isn’t holding their drawing tools ‘right’ yet), squirting things with a spray bottle, or playing with any soft toys they can squeeze.

Baby is also much more likely to start using pincer grasp to pick up small objects, like cheerios, if there are only a few in front of them, instead of a whole pile that raking and grasping in their fist would work even better for.

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