When was the last time you’ve thought about how you hold a pencil? It’s probably been a long time if your fingers line up in the “right” spot, but for those with an unusual grip, the topic likely stays on your mind each time people comment as they see you write.

It’s widely known that correct pencil grip can improve handwriting and the general comfort and fluidity of writing, and many educators believe it can help with overall brain development as well.

Occupational Therapists have been focusing on using the correct pencil grip for some time now with patients who have special needs. “Pencil grip is very difficult to change after about age 6. It can be done, but it can be a struggle,” says Stephanie Capshaw, pediatric occupational therapist and professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. “It is very important to address pencil grip early, because if it is not corrected, it can later affect speed and legibility, as well as put undue stress on developing joints, which can later cause the development of arthritis.”

So what is the right way to hold a pencil?

The “Tripod grip” is considered the desired pencil grip. The pencil is loosely held between the thumb and first two fingers. Some occupational therapists teach children to think of their fingers as a family driving in the car. The index finger and thumb gripping the pencil are the two parents in the front seat. The three other fingers are the children sitting in the back seat. They remind children that we don’t want anyone sitting in anyone else’s lap, nor do we want everyone in the front of the car.

The key is not to grip too tightly. When a child has white knuckles, holes in his paper, or frequent snaps from the lead in his pencil, you can bet his grip is too tight. Kim Stitzer, founder of www.drawyourworld.com, suggests having the child pretend to be holding a round ball inside her hand as she writes, or to actually place a small wadded up paper towel inside her palm as she is writing to loosen her grip.

Before your child begins to write, build fine motor skills through activities such as lacing, threading, or sorting small objects like paper clips or Cheerios. (For a great list of more activities to build fine motor skills check out the Beal Early Childhood Center.) Encourage the correct pencil grip by supplying him with fat crayons and chunky paintbrushes.

Once your child is writing, you can help by supplying her with a soft-lead pencil (this prevents the need for bearing down too hard and relaxes her grip.) There are also a wide variety of grippers on the market today which can be slipped onto a regular pencil and used to guide her fingers into the correct placement.

Capshaw also recommends breaking down children's crayons into small pieces. This forces the tripod grasp, discouraging the whole-handed grasp on the crayon, and helps build the small muscles in the hand necessary for a functional grasp.

Changing pencil grip may take a little time and a lot of patience, but your child’s fingers will thank you later.