How to Encourage Your Baby to Build Finger Muscles

Three Methods:Encouraging Hand UseBuilding StrengthPlaying with Developmental Toys

Your baby can instinctively grip objects, even as a newborn.[1] However, as the weeks turn into months and years, you'll need to help your baby develop the ability to use their hands. Muscle development is important, but the biggest challenge is helping your baby develop fine motor skills. By showing your child how to use their hands, providing toys that stimulate muscle development, and encouraging fine motor skill development, you can help your baby get a head start on learning how to grip and use objects.

Method 1
Encouraging Hand Use

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    Practice the palmar hand grasp. From birth, your newborn will have a reflexive ability called the palmar hand reflex. This means that when you put an object into your newborn's palm, it will instinctively wrap its fingers around that object. However, after about three to four months, those reflexes go away.[2] You can help encourage your child to develop a palmar hand grasp as the palmar reflex disappears.
    • Put your finger against your baby's palm. Your baby should curl their fingers around your finger.
    • Continue doing this on a regular basis, even as the reflex disappears.
    • If your baby has a hard time controlling finger grip, try gently guiding your baby's fingers with your other hand to wrap around your finger.
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    Promote object grasping. After about three months, your baby will have lost the reflexive ability to grip. You can help encourage your baby's muscle development by assisting your child in trying to pick up or hold objects.[3]
    • Between three and four months of age, babies will start choosing objects to pick up, though they will not yet be able to do so on their own.
    • Babies will typically bat at objects that they'd like to pick up. This will be your clue that your baby wants to hold a given object.
    • Try putting lightweight objects in your baby's hand. A rattle would be an excellent starter object.
    • Use gentle strokes to touch the backs of your baby's knuckles with the rattle. This should prompt your child to open their hand.[4]
    • Gently place the rattle in your baby's hand and see if your child can hold it for a few seconds. If your baby doesn't have the strength or coordination yet, try gently wrapping your baby's fingers around the rattle to encourage grasping.
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    Encourage self-feeding. When your baby learns to feed himself or herself, it helps develop fine motor skills and promotes muscle development in the hands. This stage of development should not be rushed too quickly, though. It's important to remember to be patient with your baby and to show them by example if they're struggling to catch on.[5]
    • You can switch your baby from a bottle to a sippy cup at approximately six to nine months of age.[6] Your baby may need you to help them grasp the cup, or you may need to dribble the contents onto their lips before your baby gets the hang of it.
    • Most babies learn to self-feed with their hands by around 8 to 12 months of age.
    • Babies can typically learn to use a spoon by 13 to 15 months of age.
    • Always supervise your baby at all times, especially if they are around food or utensils.
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    Help your child rake objects. Raking objects encourages hand use and hand-eye coordination.[7] This task may be difficult, depending on your child's age. Babies typically learn to do this on their own between four and eight months of age, but with a little guidance, your child might be able to learn this skill a little early.
    • Scatter some toy blocks on the floor in front of your child. Make sure they're large enough that they will not pose a choking hazard.
    • Gently take your baby's hand and rake the objects towards your child.

Method 2
Building Strength

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    Have babies play on their stomachs. Babies may not be able to lift themselves up yet, but it's important to encourage that skill. You can do this by having your baby spend some time playing on their stomach. You can start having your baby play on their stomach as early as zero to three months of age, though you'll still need to closely supervise your baby at all times.[8]
    • By having your baby play on their stomach, you'll help your child develop muscles in the hands, arms, and shoulders.
    • All of the muscles worked while lifting off the floor are essential muscle groups needed to develop gripping and hand use.
    • Once your baby is around four months old, you can begin having them play in different positions. Learning to play in different positions, like on the baby's side, helps build strength and develop motor skills.
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    Teach your baby to move each finger. Operating individual fingers is a somewhat advanced skill for babies. Children under 10 months of age may not be able to move individual fingers on their own. However, you can try this activity to show your baby that each finger can move.[9]
    • Gather yarn in several different colors.
    • Tie short strands of yarn onto each finger. It should be slightly snug but not tight at all.
    • Make sure there are no repeat colors directly next to each other. You want your baby to be able to see that each finger is different.
    • Slowly and gently lift one finger after another. The goal is for your baby to see each finger move independent from the rest and understand that each finger has that ability.
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    Encourage poking holes in clay. Once your baby understands that individual fingers can move independently, you can continue that muscle strength by encouraging clay play. Your baby may already have experience playing with playdough; poking holes in dough or clay will help your child learn how to operate each individual finger.[10]
    • Roll some clay out flat and give it to your child. You can encourage poking by gently guiding your baby's fingers to the clay.
    • This activity may be difficult for babies under the age of 10 months. However, you can start your baby early and teach how to poke even if your baby can't do it independently yet.

Method 3
Playing with Developmental Toys

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    Buy a baby gym. Baby gyms are a great way to develop hand-eye coordination. The dangling toys encourage hand-eye coordination and stimulate your baby's sense of curiosity.[11]
    • Lay your baby under the arch of the baby gym and encourage your child to bat at the hanging toys.
    • If your baby has a hard time figuring out how to bat at the toys, try gently taking your baby's hand and guiding it to the toys hanging overhead.
    • As your baby's skills develop, you can advance to more complex toys. For example, you may want to try pegboards or stacking rings once the baby gym is no longer useful.[12]
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    Play hand games. Hand games are a great way to play with and teach your baby. Most hand games involve synchronized vocal and hand movements, which can be tremendously helpful in teaching your baby coordination and hand strength.[13]
    • Pat a Cake (also known as Patty Cake) is a classic hand game that develops hand-eye coordination.
    • Clap hands in a criss-cross motion, then teach your child to mime rolling, patting, and marking dough with your hands.[14]
    • You can also teach the Itsy Bitsy Spider. Children find the sing-song lyrics fun, and the hand motions that mimic a spider's movement encourage muscle growth and hand-eye coordination.
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    Offer blocks. Stacking and moving blocks can be a great muscle builder that also develops hand-eye coordination. You might need to help your baby, as your child may struggle with lifting or putting down objects at this point.[15]
    • Make sure the blocks are big enough that your baby will be able to grasp them.
    • Never give your baby small blocks. Anything small enough to fit in your baby's mouth poses a choking hazard.
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    Draw with crayons. Drawing with crayons or markers helps your child develop muscle strength and learn hand-eye coordination.[16] Most infants will only be able to grip writing/drawing instruments with their entire fist. This is normal; your baby's skills will be very clumsy at first.[17]
    • Buy large, thick crayons or markers for your child. Remember that your baby will only be able to grip the drawing instrument with an entire fist, so it needs to be easy to grasp.
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    Provide sandbox toys. Playing in the sand can provide endless fun for young children. By providing simple tools like spoons, spatulas, cups, and cookie cutters, you'll be able to turn that play time into an opportunity to develop hand strength and a broader range of motion.[18]
    • If you don't have a sandbox at home you can bring these toys with you to the beach and have your child play on the shore.
    • You can also give your child natural materials to play with in the sand. These include large pieces of bark and branches that aren't sharp/pointy.
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    Use finger paint. Finger painting is a fun (though messy) activity. Kids enjoy creating colorful works of art, while the physical actions involved in finger painting help strengthen the muscles in each individual finger and promote hand-eye coordination.[19]
    • Be sure to provide paper for your child to paint on.
    • Put down plenty of newspaper to minimize the ensuing mess.
    • Encourage your child to paint by gently taking one hand, dipping it into a paint, and smearing it across the page. It may take some practice, but your child will eventually get the hang of it.
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    Solve easy puzzles. Puzzles are a great way to teach your baby hand-eye coordination and spatial reasoning while also developing hand muscles. You can purchase simple, easy puzzles for infants at most toy stores or through an online retailer.[20]
    • Buy simple jigsaw puzzles that only have five or so large pieces.
    • Show your baby how to pick them up and put them into the frame.
    • Help your child figure out how to connect the pieces.


  • Supervise your baby at all times. Never leave your baby unattended with any object.
  • Never give your baby any toys or tools that are sharp or have small pieces. Anything that fits into your child's mouth could potentially be swallowed, causing your baby to choke.

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Categories: Teaching Children Skills | Parenting