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Childhood Handwriting Red Flags: How OT Can Help

When we see our children struggling with handwriting, oftentimes parents are unsure where to turn. Below is a list of potential red flags that there may be an underlying strength issue with handwriting. It’s ALWAYS better to intervene early than to use the “wait and see” or the “they’ll grow out of it” approach. Your intuition as a parent or guardian is always the best guidance.


Childhood Handwriting Potential Red Flags

  • Messy or sloppy handwriting
  • Holding the pencil incorrectly
  • Rushing to get work done
  • Poor spacing between words
  • Poor formation of letters
  • Complaining of hand being tired or hurting when writing or coloring
  • Pressing too hard or too light with the pencil or crayon
  • Writing is laborious, written work takes forever
  • Difficulty getting thoughts on paper even though they have more to say
  • Often having to redo work, rewriting over mistakes or scribbling over mistakes
  • Grades are suffering because of poor legibility
  • Having difficulty with scissors, clumsy with eating utensils
  • Lacking confidence or embarrassed by their handwriting


In order for your child to independently and efficiently have legible handwriting, there needs to be a stable base of support, aka their core and upper body. When trying to understand the intricate muscles that create a stable base of support, think of a house. A house without a strong foundation won't be able to tolerate much. Over the years children’s grips have declined due to the lack of tummy time in infancy; some never crawl due to the lack of belly time as well. If shoulder stability and core strength aren’t developed from infancy, handwriting and fine motor skills will certainly suffer. 


Occupational Therapy can help increase a child’s upper body and core strength to assist with building a “foundation” for better handwriting skills.


Carissa Jannicelli Pampanin, MS, OTR/L, SIPT is an occupational therapist at the Pediatric Therapy Center of NJ in Cedar Grove, with specialties in sensory integration and early intervention services for children