Have you ever wondered how babies find and start using their hands? A baby’s grasp is reflexive, and most young babies keep their hands tightly fisted or curled closed when they are awake and alert. You’ll notice your baby’s fists soften and open slightly when they are relaxed, such as halfway into a feeding or asleep. Continue reading to learn more about fine motor development and how babies begin to use their hands.
Even though their fists are closed, the grasp reflex is present. When a baby feels something on his palm, he’ll usually respond by curling his fingers and holding on. By offering appropriate objects in an intentional way, you can help your baby become more aware of his hands and arms, and explore the movements and coordination leading to hand and arm control. The increasing voluntary control of the hands and fingers is called fine motor development.
You can help your young baby build increasing awareness of his hands and work on developing more voluntary control over the movements of his arms and hands by taking advantage of the grasp reflex.
How to promote your baby’s fine motor development
Baby’s first “toy” – Just a pair of links.
Take two simple baby toy “links,’ click them together, and place them in your baby’s palm. If his fist is closed tightly, try tapping on the small part of your baby’s exposed palm below his curled fingers. The fingers will quickly relax then tighten again. Take that moment to gently unfold his fingers to place the link in his palm, then loop it over his fingers. This way, his thumb will serve as a hook to help keep the links in his hand even if his hand opens and closes several times over the playtime.
Once your baby is holding the pair of links, he’ll randomly move his arms and hands, and when doing so, the links will gently click and clack. Over time, your baby will begin to move his arms and hands more, and will also bring his hand up to his mouth. As soon as a baby can deliberately bring his hands toward his mouth, he will: this isn’t necessarily a sign of hunger or an emerging tooth. It’s a very normal developmental behavior that means “Awesome! I can get my hands in my mouth now!” Your baby will mouth his hands and fingers, and any portion of the links that he can bring to his mouth.
Try “playing” with the links each day. You’ll probably notice that your baby begins to seem more aware of his hands when he’s holding the links and begins to move them with more intention.
Add additional links to the toys that dangle down from your baby’s playmat arches so that his still-very-random arm and leg movements can connect with the toy. Bring the toys down to where your baby’s natural movements happen to be. Your baby will not be able to reach out and grab at the toys dangling over him for a while yet, but if the toys are dangling close to their hands, they will become much more interested and engaged.
Often babies will flail out with an arm or hand and hit a toy over and over, making it rattle and move, while looking off in a completely different direction. Just because he’s not looking, doesn’t mean he’s not working hard to figure out how to move his body to connect with his toy. ALSO moving his head, and the cognitive steps of him understanding what he’s seeing (hey, that’s my arm, with my hand, hitting that toy, which is making that noise) is still a whole lot of information to process. If he’s swiping out with his arm to connect with a toy, he’s showing you a new purposeful skill (perfecting his fine motor development), even if he’s not looking.
Texture Exploration: let your baby feel different types of textures by helping him stroke his hand or fingers over things. Touch soft, hard, shiny, fluffy, warm, cool, crunchy, velvety, scratchy textures, and verbally describe for him what it feels like (called narrating your activities).
– Good early/first “toys” (you’re doing most of the work) – the simple pair of links. Other perfect early toys include soft fabric books, crunchy and crinkly toys and fabrics, and easy grasp rattles that are lightweight, easy to hold, and easy to clean.
What comes next? You’ll begin to see one hand to the mouth more and more often by three months as your baby’s fine motor development matures. Watch to see if your baby brings his hands together to midline (the center of his body) when in the car seat or sitting upright. Usually by three months, your baby will be interested in grasping and clutching his own hands together, and by four months, will be working very hard at getting both hands in the mouth at the same time. He’s got to make room in there, because around five or six months, he’ll be trying to bring his foot into his mouth. Really! Fun times ahead.