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HomeHealth & BehaviorHealth & Nutrition

Ask the Experts

Help! My child's motor skills are lacking

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

My second-grade son is well behaved and attentive and listens well. He is at grade level in all subjects. However, I am concerned about his motor skills. He can't tie his shoelaces well. When he ties them, they come undone in a few minutes. He also cannot seem to run or catch a ball as well as other kids in his age group. My son has never liked cycling and will not even try going on a bike. He also does not seem to be interested in playing any games or sports. Could he be having problems with his gross motor development, or is his behavior age-appropriate? What should I do?

Answer:

Children have varying degrees of fine- and gross-motor-skill competency. Check if your son is having difficulty writing, which involves fine motor skills. Most schools don’t evaluate for writing problems until students begin using cursive, which, depending on the school, might not start until third grade. Tying shoes also involves fine motor skills, and teaching him how to double-knot could be good practice. Using art materials that require more hand control could also be beneficial.

Children may not seek out activities that require coordination and use of gross motor skills (such as riding a bike) because they lack the ability — or simply aren't interested. Ask the teacher if your son is below the expected range of ability. Is he being encouraged to participate? Some children don't like the competitive nature of sports, especially if they feel incompetent. He might need more support.

Here are some things you can do to encourage his gross-motor-skill development:

  • At this age, the focus tends to be on developing locomotor skills such as running, hopping, and skipping. Try games and activities that promote these skills, like jumping rope, dribbling or passing a ball, or line dancing. All involve pacing, following directions, and making physical transitions.
  • Model participating in physical activities. It could be simple things to start, such as taking nature walks, spending time at playgrounds, or kicking a ball back and forth. Other less competitive endeavors are swimming and certain kinds of martial arts.

If you are still worried, get a preliminary assessment from your pediatrician — he or she could refer your son to a neurologist for further evaluation.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/19/2009:
"You should ask your family doctor is you have concerns; however, you can also get an occupational therapy (OT)evaluation. Occupational Therapists often work with children who have delayed gross and/or fine motor skills. It might not be a neurological problem - maybe just a little delay that a few sessions of OT would help!"
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