Helping Hands - Part II - Encouraging Hand Use 3 - 6 Months Old
Hello again! This is part II of our Helping Hands series focusing on 3 – 6 months old. In this blog, Matt, Co-founder of Rahoo Baby and pediatric OT, discusses how we as caregivers can help little ones start using their arms and hands age appropriately as they begin to progress past those “newborn” months.
At around 3 months old your baby will start doing something very cool -turn their interest in something into an actual plan to go and get something. The most obvious way to go and investigate something you see, which we as adults take for granted about 1,000 times per day, is by reaching for it. For a baby though, what a game-changer! Up until now your little one has used their hands to explore their fingers, their mouth, or maybe even mom’s hair (ouch). But now it’s time to really put those hands to work by exploring the outside world. Let’s discuss what we can do to help and start with obvious:
This is no surprise. Tummy time is one of the single most important activities for your baby from birth to about 6 -8 months (or until they start crawling or walking). All of that heavy input your baby will receive through their forearms and hands as they push off of whatever surface they’re on for tummy-time will lay the foundation for all of the more refined reaching/grasping challenges they’ll now face.
As adults, what else do we take for granted? Well, since we’re on the subject of arm and hand use, how about being able to hold your arm up against gravity? Gravity keeps us down; for example, it keeps our arms at our side while we stand up straight. But we do have the strength to extend our arm upwards against gravity every time we reach out to shake someone’s hand tap elbows to greet someone. 😏
For babies, not so easy! Just learning where their own muscles are even located and what function they serve is hard enough for them. So, as caregivers, let’s make learning to reach and play with a toy that much easier for them by eliminating the force of gravity! How can we do that? By positioning your little one in side-lying!
Side-lying allows your baby to reach for a toy in front of their face without asking them to reach directly up against gravity. In fact, if your baby is able to reach with both arms, gravity will actually help keep their hands together, making it easier for them to focus on the smaller movements of their wrists and fingers needed to manipulate a small toy. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of toys…
Give them age-appropriate toys to reach for a play with
You can read about what toys are best anywhere though. If you’re reading this blog you should leave with information you didn’t already have. So the last piece of advice for caregivers trying to help their baby continually improve the use their hands is this:
Make sure they have a solid base of support!
Let’s say your little one has been working hard. You played in tummy-time, you played in side-lying, you gave them toys to reach for. Now you want to give them (and you) an easy, playful activity to finish with.
***This Mother is doing an excellent job of engaging her baby, but she isn't actually providing her little one with a firm base of support. To do so, she could slide her legs in to stabilize her baby's core and pelvis without blocking the use of his arms.
Well, simply sit on the floor with your baby. Sit them up in between your legs, facing the same direction you are. Sprinkle rattles or blocks in front of them, encouraging them to reach. But here’s the secret – make sure your baby has a steady base of support! Use your thighs to firmly support your baby’s hips, pelvis and lower abdominals. Your legs should be tight enough against your little one’s sides that they aren’t leaning or slouching in any direction – your support is giving them a solid base of support. The difference between giving your baby a little bit of support, and a firm base of support means everything. How much stability they have will determine how much control they have in their arms, wrists, and fingers as they reach out and manipulate the toys you’ve placed in front of them.
Over time your baby will develop this base of support on their own. As caregivers though, it’s important that we occasionally isolate which skills we want to help our little ones work on. Take this blog for example. It’s about arms and hand use. We talked about tummy-time (gross motor strengthening) side-lying (gross motor strengthening and coordination) and then finally, in the paragraph above we discussed ACTUAL HAND USE. And when we discussed what we can do help, we took the gross motor strengthening and coordination challenges out of it, instead providing a baby with a solid base of support that does the gross motor work for them. Why? Because that allows them to focus entirely on experimenting with how to use their arms and hands, and develop the confidence to take risks like passing a block from one hand to another, holding two blocks at the same time, or reaching for a block that isn’t even within an arm’s reach.