Handwriting with too much pressure?
If you or your child is constantly breaking their pencil lead, is tearing through their paper or complaining of their hand hurting then the likelihood is that they are applying too much pressure when writing.
The reasons why your child might write with too much pressure
Pencil pressure is dependent upon one of our sensory systems: proprioception. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense itself. Our proprioceptive system receives input from our receptors in our skin, our joints and muscles relating to body position, pressure, movement, stretch, contract, changes of body position in space and weight. It is proprioception that enables us to apply more or less pressure and enables us to judge the force required for a specific task. Proprioception enables us to coordinate our movements appropriately throughout the day. We know that lifting a sponge on the side in the kitchen requires very little effort and pressure, whilst lifting the bed mattress to tuck in the sheet requires more work. Alongside the proprioceptive system the brain has to coordinate input about movement, gravity and balance involving the vestibular system.
A functioning proprioceptive system allows us to move the small muscles on the hand to move the pencil in fluid movements and with that ‘just right’ pressure. If a child’s proprioceptive sense is impaired, they may find it challenging to ‘judge’ how hard they are pressing.
Heavy pressure can really reduce the speed of writing and can cause fatigue, the hand might become tired and sore.
Typical signs of too much pressure when writing
- The pencil point breaks
- Letters are very dark
- Lines and handwriting are often smudged
- Paper tears
- Deeply embossing into the next few pages of their books
- When erasing mistakes they don’t fully erase, mistakes can still be read
16 ideas to hep reduce pencil pressure (and a few more!!)
- Increase proprioception, try sensory input before handwriting, anything that involves joint compression, heavy work e.g. chair pushups, wheelbarrow walk pushes, wall push ups, animal walks, praying with hands and fingers really pushing together, therapy putty manipulation. Regularly place pressure in the upper limbs through exercises which may include crawling games, ladies press ups etc. These games can be performed ‘just for fun’ even when you are not planning a handwriting activity. Hand exercises before a handwriting task are really effective at reducing handwriting pressure. Squeeze your hand into a fist as tight as you can, then relax and stretch out the hands and fingers. Repeat
a few times. Then practise writing with a tight hand compared to a relaxed hand and have your child comment on the difference in the way it felt and how the handwriting looks. This helps your child to begin to develop their awareness and words for the way they are holding their pencil.
- Use therapy putty – available in three different resistances, making pinch pots prior to writing or pulling small buttons from the putty provides a good ‘finger pincer’ workout for the fingers prior to writing.
- Try a light up pressure pen. It teaches your child how to modulate
their pressure without you needing to point it out to them. Very fun and effective. If they press too hard the light will be constantly on. A super ergonomic pen too that is refillable if they want to continue using it as a permanent pen. You can challenge your child to write so that the light doesn’t come on.
- Secret spy messages. Create your own secret spy pads. Layer carbon paper and plain paper and staple the pad together. When they first write a message on the top of the pad it might copy through to three agents, you only want to share it with the first agent, ask them to try and reduce the pressure so that only the first agent can read the message – effective fun. Discuss the adjustments they made to succeed.
- Try using a mechanical pencil. Each time the lead breaks it will
provide feedback to your child encouraging them to modify their pressure. A 7mm lead is better to start with for heavy pressure writers. Your child might like the WriteRIGHT mechanical pencil and dolphin grip.
- Do some hole punching around the edge of the paper to ‘wake’ the muscles before handwriting
- Place a sheet of paper over a piece of cork or a soft mouse pad and ask your child to try and write across the paper without poking a hole through it.
- Place the writing paper over a sheet of sandpaper – great heavy work for the small muscles in the hand and provides strong proprioceptive feedback.
- Try ghost writing! Ask your child to write lightly on the paper and then erase the words without leaving any marks. Try and read the words after they’ve been erased. If you are not able to read them the writer wins the game! Great fun!
- Your child may benefit from sensory feedback from their
handwriting tools (especially children with sensory processing disorder). Tactile sensory seekers love textures, this can be provided on their pencil. Try the Faber Castell GRIP writing pencils, the sensory pencil grip and fidget pencils.
- Try writing on newspaper or tissue paper, a very light hand is needed to prevent tearing it.
- Wrap a bit of blu tack around the pencil as a grip. Encourage your child to hold the pencil with a grasp that does not press too deeply into the blu tack.
- Draw three identical flowers, cars etc for them to colour in. Ask them to colour them in with the same pencil, one should be coloured in lightly to make light grey, one medium grey and one dark grey. Talk about the different amounts of pressure they used to achieve the different shades of grey. Ask how it feels when they are making the darker grey compared to the lighter grey shade. You can do the same with ruler lines too – start really light and see how many different shades of lines they can make until they can’t get any darker. Do one long ruler line starting light and ending dark and vice versa, keep talking about how it felt and what the difference was. Once this is understood ask your child to write a sentence ‘too dark’, ‘too light’ and then ‘just right’. Discuss how their hand felt after each sentence. Encourage their understanding of that ‘just right’ feeling. This can then be advanced to your child writing their name with their eyes closed using the ‘just right’ pressure. Discuss how it felt.
- Try slipping a thin sheet of plastic under their writing paper or a page of their school exercise book. The firmer surface will reduce the amount of pressure they can use to write with. Alternatively any firm surface will have the same effect.
- Try increasing the width of the pencil shaft, some children find it
easier holding a wider pencil. Try a range of pencils and ask your child if it one feels easier to write with. It is important that your child is aware of how tightly they are holding their pencil and how heavily they press on the page. The best pencil grip is a comfortable grip that allows the hands and fingers to move freely and easily when writing and drawing. Some children immediately press lighter with a change in the writing utensil.
- Try squeezing a stress ball before handwriting and during
handwriting to help wake the muscles before handwriting.
- Have fun writing on a boiled egg with a felt tip, it’s quite tricky not to poke through the skin!
- Watch out for bi-lateral coordination difficulties (the ability to use two hands together). Some children don’t use their helping hand to stabilise their paper which can result in them using the forearm of their writing hand to compensate which can cause them to press too hard.
- Place a sheet of paper over a carpet tile or piece of felt placed on the table and ask your child to write on it. Show your child how the back of the paper is all raised up, have him try again so that the back of the paper isn’t raised after they’ve written a sentence. Some children enjoy the feeling of pressing really hard on their paper, if this is so switch exercise books for single sheets of paper in school to reduce the ‘feel’ of the pencil digging into the sheets of the exercise book.
- You could also ask your child to listen to the sound of the pencil. Pressing too hard usually creates a louder sound than when they press ‘just right’.
- Make sure you are not giving your child a soft pencil (B) as this will make their handwriting even darker and even more likely to look smudged. A hard pencil (HB) will not smudge so easily.
- A vibrating pen provides sensory feedback and can help children with low muscle tone, it helps to wake up or stimulate muscles. The wiggle pen is fun, encourage your child to hold it lightly which will result in spirally lines or apply a steady amount of pressure to write without squiggles.
- Finally, if despite your best efforts there is no improvement, we would recommend talking to an occupational therapist or your schools’ SEN teacher to perform a full handwriting assessment.
Well, we hope this has helped…
If you have tried something that made a real difference in reducing the hand writing pressure please share it with us! Thanks…
Copyright Fantastic Dyspraxic. Author Lisa Bochenek. 2017.