The pincer grasp is the coordination of the index finger and thumb to hold an item. Each time you hold a pen or button your shirt, you’re using the pincer grasp.
While it may seem like second nature to an adult, to a baby this is an important milestone in fine motor development. The pincer grasp represents the coordination of brain and muscles that’s necessary to help them gain increasing independence.
A baby will typically develop this skill between the ages of9 and 10 months, although this can vary. Children develop at different rates.
If a child doesn’t develop this milestone over time, doctors may interpret this as a delayed development sign. Doctors can recommend activities and therapies that can help a child improve their use of the pincer grasp.
A pincer grasp represents further development of fine motor skills. These are movements that require precise control of small muscles in the hands. They require multiple skills, including strength and hand-eye coordination.
Fine motor skills are the foundation that will later allow your child to write and use a computer mouse.
A child will usually start to develop a pincer grasp around 9 months of age, according to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. However, you may observe this earlier or later depending on your child’s unique development.
Other milestones that occur around this time include learning how to bang two objects together and clapping their hands.
Stages of pincer grasp development
Pincer grasp development is usually the result of building on several grasping and coordination milestones. Some of the early developmental milestones that later allow a child to perform the pincer grasp include:
- palmar grasp: bringing the fingers in toward the palm, allowing babies to curl their fingers around an object
- raking grasp: using the fingers other than the thumb like a rake, curling the top of the fingers over the object to bring items toward them
- inferior pincer grasp: using the pads of the thumb and index finger to pick up and hold objects; this precursor to the pincer grasp usually takes place between 7 and 8 months of age
A true pincer grasp is when a child uses the tips of their fingers to pick up objects. This is also called a superior or “neat” pincer grasp.
Children are able to pick up smaller, thinner objects when they can accomplish a pincer grasp. Allowing a child to grasp items, make contact with their hands, and engage with items is a step toward the pincer grasp.
Parents and caregivers can foster a child’s pincer grasp development through these activities.
- Put differently sized small items in front of your baby and watch how they try to pick up various things. Examples could include play coins, marbles, or buttons. Babies at this age put everything in their mouths, so supervise this activity carefully to ensure your child doesn’t choke or try to swallow them.
- Place soft finger foods like pieces of banana or cooked carrots in front of your baby and have them reach to pick them up and eat them.
Using spoons, forks, markers, crayons, and anything else that is held in the fingers can help your child develop a pincer grasp. Eating with the hands and playing with balls and toys of varying sizes can also help.
Motor development milestones such as the pincer grasp represent the development of motor tracts in the nervous system.
If your 8- to 12-month-old child shows no interest picking up objects, talk to your child’s doctor. Sometimes this is an indicator of a known condition that can affect motor development, such as a developmental coordination disorder.
A doctor may recommend interventions such as occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can work with your child to encourage developmental milestones. They can also teach you how to foster these efforts.
If your child is older than 12 months and hasn’t shown signs of a pincer grasp yet, talk to their pediatrician. Your child’s pediatrician can evaluate their fine motor skills as well as discuss a timeline for such milestones given your child’s overall development.