Pincer Grasp

Pincer grasp definition

It is one of the most important fine motor skills where a baby learns to pick and hold small objects with his index finger and thumb [1, 2].

Pincer Grasp

Pincer Grasp

At what age do babies develop the pincer grasp

Your baby starts attempting to pinch small objects with his fingers around eight to nine months of age [3, 4], after he has mastered holding larger objects like toys and pencils in his palms [5]. Then, he gradually perfects the reflex over the next few months of his life.

Stages of developing the pincer grasp reflex

Inferior or crude pincer grasp

It is the initial stage of development of the reflex with the baby using the pads of his index finger and thumb to pick up small objects in his hand [Picture (A) in the below picture]. The inferior grasp reflex remains from the time your baby starts developing the reflex till about the time he is 10 months of age [6].

Superior or neat pincer grasp

Also known as fine pincer grasp, this is the advanced stage of the reflex when your baby can pick up small objects, such as a single cheerio or a small candy, with precision using the tips of his thumb and index finger [Picture (C) in the below picture] [7]. Most babies display the superior grasp reflex between the tenth and twelfth month of their life [8].

Pincer Grasp Stages of Development

Pincer Grasp Stages of Development

In this way, your child will eventually learn to feed himself or pick up a spoon and then excel at daily activities like buttoning his shirt, brushing his teeth and finally using his crayon set. Later, your child will also develop the lateral pincer grasp which allows him to hold something between the thumb and the side of the mid-joint of the index finger (e.g. holding a key while unlocking a door).

Activity ideas for pincer grasp development in babies and toddlers

Throughout the whole developmental process, your baby needs your support to thrive well and be happy. Here are a few ideas for you to help him on his journey:

Strengthening the index finger: Point at things in front of your baby so he may copy you and learn the use of his index finger. Also, allow him to push buttons (such as phone keypad or a remote), switches or poke his finger in holes as this helps in strengthening the finger, eventually helping with the pincer grasp [8]. But, always keep an eye on him so he does not hurt himself.

Mealtime training: As your little one starts to discover the use of his fingers, he will try to hold a spoon or fork in his hands during mealtimes. So, be there beside him to teach and encourage him to use them properly. In the beginning he will use his hands for actually eating while holding the spoon or a tissue in the other hand, just for fun. Make sure he gets a lot of practice [3].

Finger foods: Scatter some finger foods, like small pieces of soft cheese, cooked carrots or soft fruits like banana and mango in front of your baby so he can feed himself. Be patient with him as he plays with them and even throws the foods around as well as putting a few pieces in his mouth. After all, he is just learning that he can throw things with his hands and it is another important motor developmental milestone [5]. Make sure to stay away from hard foods to avoid any choking hazards.

Sock gloves: Use a tiny sock that fits the fist of your child; make two holes at the top so only his index finger and thumb can peek out, obliging him to use only those two fingers to pick up things while wearing the sock-gloves.

Placing plastic toys like stacking rings and alphabet blocks can also encourage him to pick them up, throw them and pick up again, providing good practice.

When to worry

In case your child has no interest in holding his toys, does not reach for any moving objects in front of him by 4-5 months, or if he does not attempt to pick up things with his fingers at all when he is 8-9 months of age, consider discussing the matter with your pediatrician to find out if an occupational therapy is necessary. Possible serious causes of delayed or absent pincer grasp include genetic disorders like autism and cerebral palsy. However, it does not necessarily mean that something is wrong.

One thing to always keep in mind is that every child is different in his ways of growth and development and reaches the milestones at his own pace. Like in case of many other milestones, the reflex may be a little delayed in premature babies. So, it is never advisable to put pressure on your child or make him feel like he is not developing properly as it may have a negative effect on him [3, 9].

[ref]
  1. http://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/week-28/pincer-grasp.aspx
  2. http://www.pearsonschoolsandfecolleges.co.uk/feandvocational/childcare/btec/btecfirstchildrenscarelearninganddevelop/samples/samplematerial/ucd%20unit%201.pdf
  3. http://www.babycenter.com/0_developmental-milestones-grasping_6578.bc
  4. http://www.choc.org/userfiles/file/Rehab-Developmental%20Milestones%20final.pdf
  5. http://www.parents.com/advice/babies/baby-development/when-will-my-baby-develop-a-pincer-grasp/
  6. http://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/Child_Development_Milestones_e.htm
  7. http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a6578/developmental-milestones-grasping
  8. http://connectability.ca/2011/03/21/practical-strategies-for-developing-fine-motor-skills/
  9. http://www.parenting.com/article/10-essential-baby-milestones [/ref]