Fine motor skills depend on the coordination, speed and strength of the small muscles in your hand, fingers and wrist to complete precise tasks. We exercise fine motor skills when we write, draw, button our shirt, tie our shoes, or use a fork and knife. These skills start developing in the first few months of a child’s life. Infants bring their hands to their face and swipe at objects. As they get stronger, swiping is replaced by grasping objects with a whole fist, which then differentiates as the child begins to use different parts of the hand in more coordinated grasp patterns. If a child struggles to grasp or manipulate objects, it could be a sign of a fine motor delay.

What causes a fine motor delay?

Many variables can contribute to a delay in the development of fine motor skills, including genetics, premature birth or neurological disorders. Below are other common factors that impact fine motor skills.


When babies are presented with age appropriate toys they are able to work on manipulating it, thus developing their skills further. This continues to be true at all ages. If given materials or tasks that are too difficult, they are more likely to give up in frustration and not develop the interim skills required to reach that stage. Tasks that are too easy don’t provide any challenge to keep learning and improving. For example, kids will first grasp objects with their palms before developing the pincer grasp. Therefore you want to start providing them with larger pieces of food or toys to pick up with their fist and only then move on to smaller ones.


Good postural control has a big impact on fine motor skills. Without a stable base kids won’t be able to focus on precise manual control needed in activities like writing. Crawling is a great way to develop the core and shoulder muscles that you need for proper posture. Putting weight on your hands as you shift your body from side to side will help develop the small hand muscles as well.

Then you need the muscles to work together with good dexterity to manipulate objects like buttons and eating utensils. And you need praxis to plan and complete a task such as dressing and eating a meal. Allow extra time to practice these skills even though it takes more time to get dressed and meals can be messy.

Sensory Processing Issues

Sometimes sensory processing can also interfere with fine motor skills. A child with tactile defensiveness may miss important hand strengthening opportunities because they don’t want to touch the materials. If someone has poor proprioception then they won’t be able to gauge how much force to use when putting pen to paper, leading to poor handwriting.

How to Improve a Fine Motor Delay

If you notice that your child has difficulty with fine motor tasks and they have a fine motor delay, there are ways you can help. There are many tools and techniques that can be used to strengthen hand muscles and develop the grasp patterns needed for play and learning. Early intervention and working with an occupational therapist can help them target the underlying skills that may be causing their delay. Continue to provide activities at home that encourage your child to practice the skills they worked on with their therapist. 

We’d love to hear about your fine motor delay experiences and answer any questions you have. Leave them in the comments or reach out!

This post was originally posted on 10/26/2021 by Malkie Ward, OTR/L. It was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on 2/26/2023.