Does your child know how to hold scissors correctly? The correct scissor grip is important - read on to find out why it matters, and how to help your child.
Remember, if you are at all concerned about your child's scissor cutting skills, please do speak to an occupational therapist. This website is not a substitute for occupational therapy!
Cutting with scissors is a fundamental fine motor skill, which lays the foundation for better pencil control for better handwriting. But only if your child is holding the scissors correctly!
Here's how it works:
When your child is learning to write, the thumb, index and middle fingers should be controlling the pencil. I call them the tripod fingers.
The ring and little fingers should be curled up on the side, providing stability and strength to the hand (the technical name for this is ulnar stability).
On the picture alongside, you can see the tripod fingers holding the pencil, with the ring and little fingers curled up loosely for stability on the side.
The split between mobility on one side of the hand and stability on the other side of the hand is very important for good pencil control and, ultimately, handwriting skills.
Cutting with scissors can provide lots of practice at getting this split between stability and mobility. Here's how:
When your child learns how to hold scissors, the thumb, index and middle fingers are the fingers which need to be opening and closing the scissors. That way, they are getting lots of practice at working together.
And when the ring and little fingers are curled up loosely alongside, they are getting practice at providing stability to the hand.
This picture shows a child who is cutting without good ulnar stability - the ring and little fingers are sticking out.
If your child holds the scissors like this, then pop a little piece of paper (or other small item like a paper clip) under the ring and little fingers.This will remind your child to hold the fingers in place so the paper does not fall out.
Now that we have established that it is the thumb, index and middle fingers that need to go through the holes in the scissor handles, the question is... how to hold scissors with different styles of handles?!
So let's have a look at some different styles of kiddie scissors that we often see on the market:
The scissors you use will depend on your budget, and what you have available, as well as the age and skill of the child.
Generally, younger children, or those with poorer skills, need to put both the index and middle fingers through the same hole. Older or more skilled children can use scissors with small holes for the thumb and middle finger, with the index finger on the outside to help stabilize the scissors.
But what we DON'T want, from an occupational therapy perspective, is all the fingers moving together, so avoid scissors with very large holes that all the fingers can fit through.
As adults, we often have to use large scissors with large holes in the handles for all our fingers to fit through, and that is absolutely fine. But the reason why we focus so much on getting kids to use their tripod fingers to grip the scissors, is because their fingers need all the practice they can get in preparation for writing. Especially if their fine motor skills are poor.
So, helping your child learn how to hold scissors for maximum fine motor benefit will help them tremendously in the long run!
People use lots of analogies to help kids learn how to hold scissors and how to cut along a line. Crocodiles, driving the car along the road...
But I have found that a really effective guideline is the "Two Thumbs Up!" guideline.
This guideline can help kids to remember how to hold scissors AND the paper in the most effective way.
The pictures below show kids who are holding the paper down on the desk, and their thumbs are below the paper. Holding the paper like this often happens when kids are new to cutting out, or when their coordination skills are poor (so they can't figure out how to use both hands together well).
If your child is doing this, you can ask your child to give you "Two Thumbs Up" before starting the scissor task.
This will help your child remember to hold the paper up in front of them, which comes more naturally when the thumb is ABOVE the paper, and the scissors are being held with the thumb hole on top.
And then take some time to work on bilateral coordination skills to help them use both hands together well.
If you want to teach your left handed child how to hold scissors correctly, it is very important that you provide left handed scissors.
After that, all the principles of how to hold scissors apply in exactly the same way!
If you want to know more about how left handed scissors work, and why
all left handed children should have left handed scissors, pop over to
my Scissor Cutting FAQ.
For your convenience, I have linked to some left handed scissors on Amazon. (This is an affiliate link - I will earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, at no additional cost to you.)
I hope you found this page helpful! If you want all my scissor cutting information in an accessible download, please take a look at my Scissor Skills E-Book!
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Feel free to browse the scissor pages on my site to get tips and activities to help your child develop better cutting skills!
Mitchell, A. W., Hampton, C., Hanks, M., Miller, C., & Ray, N. (2012). Influence of task and tool characteristics on scissor skills in typical adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, e89–e97. https://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2012.004135
Ratcliffe, I., Concha, M. & Franzsen, D. (2007). Analysis of cutting skills in four and six year olds attending nursery schools in Johannesburg. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy. 37. 4-9.
Ratcliffe, I., Franzsen, D., & Bischof, F. (2010). Development of a scissors skills programme for grade 0 children in South Africa - A pilot study. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy. 41. 24-31.
Smith, Barbara A. MS, OTR/L. From Rattles to Writing – A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills. 2011. Therapro Inc.
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