The importance of hand function

Your child’s hand function is a particularly complex area that is easily overlooked as its development is mostly taken for granted.

We have 29 bones and 123 ligaments in each hand while nearly a quarter of the brain’s motor cortex (which controls all movement) is devoted to the muscles of the hands.

Hand function describes your child’s ability to reach out with their hands, pick up and carry items and put things down in a particular place as well as the more complex skills of in-hand manipulation and bilateral use of hands. It includes the development of different grips and the ability to discern between various textures as well as hard and soft, hot and cold. Hand function requires that little ones exercise their motor skills as well as understanding and reacting to sensory stimuli.  The development of your child’s hand function therefore plays an important part in their brain function.

Although we hardly notice it, kids use their hands for most daily activities, like eating, brushing their teeth, and colouring in, drawing, writing, holding toys, dressing and various other actions.

Development of your child’s hand function starts at birth and even newborn babies will grip a parent’s finger.  At 2 months they become more aware of their hands and they’ll regularly put them in their mouths. At 3 months children will be able to hold an object if it is placed in their hands. At 4 months your baby will start reaching out for a toy or object and at around 6 months your little darling will voluntarily loosen their grip when asked to. Around 10 months, babies will become more adept at handling objects and they’ll be able to place an item inside a larger container. By the time they turn 1, hand function should have developed to such an extent that they’ll be able to build a tower by stacking objects on top of each other. In general it may appear as if your baby tends to use their hands mostly to put things in their mouth or throw their toys and other objects around or hit and break them. This is completely normal and part of the process to develop hand function.

When your toddler is 15 months old, he or she will start to manipulate objects or even to scribble whenever they find an opportunity. At around 2 years, little ones will start twisting bottle tops to open them. From 2½ years onwards children may use both hands to reach out for something or they may alternate hands to hold an object. Between the ages of 2 and 4 years they will use their hands to inspect and discover toys and objects to see what they can do with it.

Hand dominance will become more apparent from 4 years onwards and by age 5 it should be established.

At around 5 years your child will use various objects and materials to construct and create items. Simple activities involving cutting and pasting should be easy for kids of this age and they’ll start colouring in between lines. By 6 years old, your little one will be able to button their clothes without looking.

To promote the development of your child’s hand function, it’s important to let them handle objects of different sizes, shapes, textures and temperatures. Let your little one use their hands when discovering their environment, always making sure of their safety.

If you’d like to use specific activities or toys to stimulate this skill, pick something that’s age-appropriate and interesting yet challenging enough. Use games and other pleasurable activities and remember that little ones learn by repetition. Then make sure you play and learn together!

Visit www.mysmartkid.com or www.myslimkind.com, or call 0861 555 224 for more information.

by Susanne Hugo, Mysmartkid’s occupational therapist

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