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 her 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 she’s working on that are quite literally smaller, though, like the motion of her little thumb and pointer finger, are laying the groundwork for every time she holds a pencil or pen for the rest of her life.

This doesn’t mean that how fast Baby masters the pincer grasp has anything to do with her eventual report card, but the way she is developing the small muscles in her 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 her with her fingers and then picking them up in her fist. This is the grip she has 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 her thumb and forefinger or middle finger.

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

How can I encourage it?

Strictly speaking, Baby is probably well on her way to developing the pincer grasp all on her own already, without your help. On the other hand, though, it can’t hurt to point her in the right direction, and if she’s 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 her pointer finger, and just like the name suggests, one of the best ways to build that up is by working on pointing with her. Since pointing is also an important pre-verbal step toward communication, you may have already started pointing things out to Baby, and encouraging her 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 her pointing skills by encouraging her to poke holes in play dough, or push buttons on her 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 she isn’t holding her drawing tools ‘right’ yet), squirting things with a spray bottle, or playing with any soft toys she 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 her, instead of a whole pile that raking and grasping in her fist would work even better for.

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