Is there a right way to hold a pencil? My four-year-old holds it so strangely. Should I encourage her to change?

Yes, there is a right way to hold a pencil, if by right you mean a way to eliminate fatigue, cramping and pain.  Four-years-old is not too young to form a good habit or to break a bad one.  But should you force your child to change?  It depends.

young girl with pencil in mouth

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Go online and search for how to hold a pencil correctly.  You will find numerous websites promoting the tripod position as the best.  The writer grips the pencil with the thumb, index finger and middle finger, letting the ring finger and pinky either point to the body or curl into the palm of the hand.  Sometimes holding a half tissue with those two fingers helps keep them in the correct position.  The pencil rests on the middle finger, between the knuckle and the nail.  The tips of the index finger and thumb hold the pencil in place.

All five fingers should be flexed slightly.  The index finger knuckle above the nail should bulge slightly out, not in.  The thumb should form a straight line with the lower arm, and the pinky and heel of the hand should slide over the paper without pressure.  The paper’s lower left corner should face the center of the body for right handed-people (lower right corner for left-handed writers).  If possible, the whole arm up to the elbow should rest on the writing surface.  The more of the arm that hangs off, the quicker fatigue will set in no matter how a pencil is held.

If you notice that your child is writing with dark, heavy strokes, he is probably bearing down too heavily on his pencil.  This can become a habit leading to fatigue.  One way to solve it is to replace his number 2 pencil with a number 1 pencil with softer lead.

Child writing with right hand.

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Many pencil grips can be purchased which encourage holding the pencil in the tripod position.  They do not guarantee success, but if you monitor your child’s grip, they can help during the transition.  Kids usually like to use these fun gadgets, but it is possible to use them and still hold the pencil awkwardly.  So be prepared to watch and interfere if the child reverts.

It feels “funny” to change how to hold a pencil, so be prepared for resistance.  At first you might limit to five minutes practice writing the new way.  Put the timer on the table so the child can predict the end of the session.  Or play a game the child likes—say Tick, tack, toe—and ask the child to hold the pencil the new way for the length of the game.  If the child likes the game, she might persist longer.

Surgeons hold a scalpel in the tripod position.  If your child hopes to become a doctor, you could use this “carrot” to get her to change to the tripod position.

Do you need to change your child’s grip?  If the child is complaining about writing because of hand pain, then probably you should try to change the grip.  My mother forced me to change my grip when I was in first grade because my hand cramped so quickly.  I hated writing the new way.  For many weeks homework time was a time of tears for me.  Yet I am grateful she persisted because within a month I could tell that my hand didn’t hurt with the new way of holding my pencil.  I switched over.

Another thing to think about is who is likely to see your child’s pen grip in the future, and how will those people judge your child because of it.  Rightly or wrongly, we are judged by first impressions—our clothes, our grammar or our grooming.  An awkward pen grip might seem silly or unprofessional by someone your child is trying to impress.

Under the new Common Core Curriculum to go into effect in 2014 in most states, handwriting will not be emphasized to leave time for other learning activities.

If your child balks unbearably, changing the hand grip might not be worth the fight.  Is the child’s lettering legible?  If it is, perhaps you should ease off and focus on the outcome, not the method.  Today’s children will be “writing” with electronic equipment, not pencils, most of their lives.

How about you?  Has your child’s pencil grip been a problem?  Have you been able to change it?  Or did you decide it wasn’t important?  We welcome your comments.

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