Handwriting Difficulties

And how to “hand”le them


Many mothers that come into our practice have more or less the same question…

“How do I help my child with his handwriting?”


Many children that are referred for occupational therapy, especially between the ages of 6 to 8 years, are referred due to poor fine motor skills impacting their handwriting abilities. This can mean any of the following:

  • Poor legibility when writing
  • Inability to write neatly on/ between the lines
  • Poor spacing of letters and words
  • Writing too big or too small
  • A slow work pace (work speed)
  • Insufficient pencil grasp
  • Frequently complaining of ‘tired’ hand muscles
  • Pressing too hard with his/her pencil on a paper


It is, therefore, important to note that handwriting is a complex skill. It involves the ability to stabilise your shoulder, elbow and wrist, whilst planning finer movements with your hand, within a designated space. Oh my! That does sound complicated!


Luckily, our brains are designed to be able to master this.

So how do we do it?


Firstly, we need some knowledge of normal development. We are designed to develop skills in a progressive pattern. This means that each new skill we learn will contribute to another skill in the future.


An Example of how this works:

Babies learn to crawl in order to get from point A to point B. But the ability to crawl has many other benefits not necessarily visible to the eye. Crawling teaches a baby about his body and his body parts. It teaches a baby about the space around him, and how he fits into that space. It strengthens his hip, stomach, back, neck and shoulder muscles. It enables his hand-arch to develop and it enhances his motivation to explore his world around him. These skills are stored in a child’s memory and can then be retrieved and administered when needed. When a child starts to develop handwriting, some of these learnt skills may become useful. A strong stomach, neck, back and shoulder may help with his posture and the stabilisation of his hand during writing. Good knowledge about the space around him and how he fits into that space may assist him to plan the space on the page, write on the line and plan the spacing between letters and words. A strong hand-arch enhances his pencil grasp.


However, sometimes these skills are not developed adequately, and some cracks in a child’s developmental foundation occur. It is important to really pinpoint where the problem lies, in order to address it.


Let us take a look…


As an occupational therapist, we’ll look at the following areas.


  1. Strength and endurance

Is a child’s handwriting poor due to poor hand muscle development, poor endurance and poor muscle strength? This may cause poor pencil control and a poor pencil grasp, which has a negative impact on a child’s handwriting neatness and legibility. Usually, some strengthening exercises will be prescribed to address this.


  1. Spatial concepts and planning

Does the child have difficulty in planning the space on his page or on the line? Does his brain accurately perceive the space within which he can write, and can he correctly plan his finer hand movements to write within that given space? If this is the problem area, the treatment may consist of enhancing a child’s visual perceptual skills and planning abilities.


  1. Vision

Can a child see adequately? How strong are his eye muscles? Do we need to refer the child to an optometrist?


Usually, poor handwriting is a combination of some of the above, and an in-depth assessment will provide sufficient answers. This will also ensure that therapy (if needed) is goal-directed and client-centred.


So… What can you as a parent do?


Practice fine motor skills as much as possible.

  • Play with play dough.
  • Tear pieces of paper into small pieces.
  • Thread beads.
  • Cut with scissors.
  • Colour with crayons and pencils.


Make writing fun.

  • Write in the sand on the beach.
  • Write different words that you see around the house.
  • Write on coloured paper.
  • Write on scratch paper.
  • Write on play dough.
  • Write with shaving cream


Have a strong body and limit screen time

  • Play outside.
  • Do handstands.
  • Do wheelbarrow walking.
  • Do pre-writing exercises.
  • Play on a jungle gym.
  • Allow floor time for babies as much as possible


Talk positive

  • Positive feedback goes a long way.
  • Encourage your child to try and motivate as much as possible.


Involve his teacher

  • Share what you are doing at home. Ask for advice, and work as a team.


If in doubt, contact an Occupational Therapist.


Some inspiration and ideas from other mothers:



Teaching Handwriting


This article was written to provide some practical ideas and information for parents. This article was not intended to substitute professional advice. It is always best to get assistance for handwriting difficulties by a trained professional.