You probably wonder why and how it has this negative effect. Let’s have a look.
In the early years, your child learns about letters and numbers. He needs to be able to write these down as well as read them and manipulate them to make different words, or in the case of numbers, be able to add and subtract and perform calculations with them. I have seen so many children who struggle with pencil grip and control use so much of their energy and thinking on forming the letters or numbers correctly and in the right place, that they have little ‘thinking energy’ left to focus on the spelling, meaning or calculation. You can get a feeling for the difficulty your child is experiencing: write with your non-dominant hand and try to write a meaningful, well-spelt and flowing story about your day; or try to do a long-division or multiplication with 3 digit numbers. What comes easily to you when you have easy control of your pencil and do not have to focus attention on your pencil grip and control or how you form your letters and numbers, is so much more difficult when you swap your pencil into the hand which is unaccustomed and ill-prepared for efficient pencil control.
So we see that children with poor pencil grip and control will struggle to perform at their actual level in written tasks. They may know the work but are unable to put it down in good time and are more likely to make “silly” mistakes.
Struggling to complete written work when many of their peers manage has two dangerous side-effects. The first is that it can have a very negative effect on your child’s self esteem. He knows that he is trying his best and can see that the others manage better than he does but he does not have the understanding to help him understand why that might be. He is left thinking that the reason is because they are cleverer than he is. This is nearly always wrong and many clever children underperform in written work until they have had help to bring their pencil grip and pencil control up to par. Although it is not correct, it has a negative impact on the self esteem of the child who tries hard and wants to do well. Many children develop behaviours to protect their self esteem. One of the best ways is to avoid these difficult pencil tasks; another is to clown around in the class and earn laughter and praise from peers while giving himself the excuse that he didn’t really try hard and that’s the main reason he didn’t finish the work as well as others did. Both these scenarios have very sad end results. The child who continually tries hard and develops a negative self esteem, carries this with him into adult life, believing he is less capable than others. The child who learns to clown and avoid difficult tasks may save his self esteem by aiming his skills towards peer socialisation, but he learns to avoid difficult tasks rather than trying his best and he also begins to fall behind the rest of the class as they learn more foundations while he clowns and avoids.
In the early foundation years children learn to express themselves in writing. They learn to write stories and each Monday the teacher asks them to write about what they did on the weekend. The child with poor pencil grip and control, who struggles to get the letters onto the page neatly and correctly spaced and who becomes tired because he uses whole arm movements instead of efficient finger movements with stable body and relaxed shoulders, will limit himself. He will write as little as he can. This stops him from developing the grammar, spelling and logical sequential reasoning that are developed through learning to express himself in writing. This will have a negative impact on him in later years when he needs to write meaningful paragraph or essay answers to examination questions.
To help offset the damage to his early written language development, you can help your child make his own story book, using the computer. His enthusiasm for “publishing his own book” and the easier method of getting the words and letters onto the page will make the task more fun and he is more likely to allow himself longer sentences and more detail in his story.
This last point probably leads you to ask why we don’t simply stop teaching writing and teach all children to simply use keyboards. That will help these children overcome many of the early learning difficulties. However, I believe that mankind should think carefully before relegating all our written expression to electronic media. Also, research shows that by writing rather than typing words and information which we want to process and remember, we are more likely to remember it. This should come as no surprise because many people already will scribble a word down to check themselves for spelling. The reason seems very simple and obvious to me and I’m sure that when you think about it you’ll agree: when we write something down we are using our visual memory together with our movement memory (the movement of our fingers and hand as we write). In the rich first world countries, it might be possible for all learning and examinations to be done on computers and key-boards; but it is a very long way away for the less rich countries. If children need to write during examinations, they need to learn to be as competent as possible so that they are not restricted or limited when they need to show their level of understanding of their chosen subjects.
If your child has difficulty with pencil grip and pencil control do not ignore it but do not panic either. Early recognition and early support usually has a very good end result.
You might want to see some ideas of how you can help your child develop a good pencil grip and be able to easily control his pencil. Click here to read a post which will give you easy ideas.
Sharon Stansfield has written a book to help you teach your child to read, using fun Occupational Therapy methods. Click here to find out about it.