Helping Hands - Part III - Encouraging Hand Use 6 -9 Months Old

Hello again! This is part III of our Helping Hands series focusing on 6 - 9 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 hands age appropriately from 6-9 months old.

The reason this blog is broken down into 4 parts is because although 3 months may not seem like a long time, for a baby – in terms of development - that’s like a lifetime! And look no further than the way your little one is using their hands to get a reminder of how far they’ve come. From reflexive grasping, to putting their hands in their own mouth, to actual reaching and grasping.

But what comes next?

Now that your little one can see something, reach for it, and grab it, what can we really expect them to do with what they’re holding? Well, it’s really not so much about how they manipulate what they’re holding – that’s more of a fine motor discussion and will be the focus of part IV of this series, next week. Actually, from an overall development perspective, the way a baby is using their hands speaks volumes about their cognitive development. The more they use their hands, the more they learn. That being said, let’s talk about the things we can do to help spark your baby’s hand use. The over-aching theme of this blog, at this particular stage of their development is this: 

Do they try new things with the objects they hold?

Here's what I mean...

One of the key markers of your baby getting older (and smarter) is their interest in exploring. Soon enough, holding a block and banging it against the highchair, or chewing on it, or shaking it, just won’t stimulate them (hold their attention) like it used to. *Don’t take this the wrong way – babies will continuously chew, shake, and bang things well beyond one year old*. But is that all they are doing? If so that’s OK, it takes time to learn new skills, but as caregivers we can help little ones diversify the way he or she plays with their toys. Let’s use blocks as an example, and explore the different play strategies to open a baby’s mind and help them learn new ways to investigate their toys…

Do they go searching for the block?

Out of sight out of mind? Or will your baby go and retrieve the block they were using before you hid it under a swaddle right in front of them? From a cognitive standpoint, the baby must recognize they no longer have the block, remember they were using it, and have the interal cue to want it back. The baby must also recognize their own ability to use those super convenient set of hands they have to go searching for it! So, does your baby remove the swaddle to uncover the block and then pick it up? How about if the block is only partially covered? They still aren’t interested? No problem! Try sitting behind your baby and giving them hand over hand assistance (i.e. use your hand to guide their hand towards to swaddle, and actually help them grasp & remove the swaddle to uncover the block, followed by a very dramatic gasp to suggest “there it is!”). Object permanence emerges at slightly different ages for babies, but as long we give them opportunities to master this skill then they’re well on their way.

Do they hold not one, but two blocks?

One of the challenges in writing blogs like this is that they can get overly-complicated and wordy - trying to get better at that : ) - but sometimes, simplicity is key. With that being said…

Does your baby hold only one block at a time? Offer them a second. Offer them a block right next to their hand that’s free. Do they drop the first one to get the second? That’s OK, we’re practicing! It’s tough for them to focus on both hands at once.

When they do start holding 2 objects at once (blocks in this example) do they bang them together? This is where hand over hand assistance is key, once again. Show them how to do it! Try going fast, try going slow. Eventually your little one will appreciate how cool it is that they are the one responsible for making that sound…and then they will never stop…ever.

Do they turn things up, down, over and side to side?

Turning our wrists & forearms so that our palms face up or down is called supination and pronation, and babies need practice with this. Using their hands to rotate an object requires some degree of fine motor manipulation, but not anything they can’t handle. So how can we encourage this? Try putting a colorful sticker on one side of the block, and hand it to your baby so that it’s on the bottom. Will they turn it over to see the sticker? How about those high contrast cards you were using when your baby was just a newborn? Break em’ back out! See if that sparks their interest in turning them over to explore both sides so they can find the more interesting, black and white side. Or how about the classic Pediatrician visit toy? Oldie but a goodie, and will absolutely challenge your little one to be very intentional about the position of their wrists and forearms while they play!

Go ahead and try these tips out next time you play with your baby. At the very least you’ll start noticing when he or she starts to do some of the things discussed on this blog today, and give you yet another reason to feel proud ☺️

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