Special Report: Children Losing Their Grip

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – At Kiddie Kastle Child Care in Virginia Beach, children are learning and they don’t even know it.

“We do a lot of play. We learn through play,” says Randee Holmes.

Randee runs Kiddie Kastle. In her more than 20 years in child care she has seen it all, but over the last several years she started to notice some children having a problem.

“They don’t have the strength to hold the crayons in the way that a child that does, and they don’t do the, like, pincer grasp.”

Randee learned that problem can be linked to overuse of electronics like iPads and phones. Rather than coloring or grasping and stacking blocks, many children are simply swiping a screen over and over.

“They’re not usually interested in the coloring. They’d rather go off and do other things,” says Randee.

The American Occupational Therapy Association tells WAVY.com while there is no hard data on the issue, it is seeing a trend nationwide of children not developing the muscles in their hands that control motor skills.

“With swiping, you’re not working any of those. You’re just kind of doing this. Versus with coloring or cutting with scissors or manipulating some toys, you’re actually getting those fine motor skills and strength,” says Cameron Brown, an occupational therapist for CHKD.

Cameron says a delay in the development of your child’s motor skills could make it harder for them when they start school.

“The school demands are higher earlier, too, compared to the old days. You know, kindergarten was more of like a playtime and let’s learn your letters, and now in kindergarten there’s an expectation for writing and that type of thing.”

Cameron is quick to point out, not all tablet use is bad. As a matter of fact, she even uses apps to teach children how to use a pincer grasp and writing motions. There are a lot of great, educational elements on a tablet, but she says problems arise when children do nothing physical with the tablet.

“Some kids end up using the iPad and it’s just, ‘I’ll pick this video or that video,’ and even if it’s an educational show, it’s passively engaged.”

Cameron says there are warning signs you should look for to figure out if your child is over-using electronics.

“How hard is it for them to separate from the iPad? Is there a tantrum following it? Are they able to still socially engage with you or siblings or friends? While using the iPad, or afterwards, are they super hyper focused on the iPad or the tablet that it takes away from wanting to engage in other activities?”

The number one thing you can do as a parent when it comes to electronics use?

“I think the biggest thing is for the parents to be in control of the tablet.”

While technology is good, a balance between technology and play is great according to Cameron.

“Choosing some activities that we can think of as traditional activities is probably where I’d start,” says Cameron. “You know, anything from play dough, blocks, manipulating little toys, even practicing dress up that actually has buttons or zippers, and not forgetting to do some of the gross motor things like riding a bike, climbing, tricycle, because all of those things are also going to help develop their trunk so they can sit and color.”

Parental involvement is key.

“Children tend to follow-up with what parents do as well. It’s not just what we can do. You have to have parents helping you out,” says Randee.

She loves nothing more than to help a child realize they’ve made progress with their dexterity.

“It’s very rewarding to say, ‘Oh you did it today!’ And it’s even more exciting to share it with the parents when they come to get their children. Sometimes we’ll even use that phone and let them call and tell Mom and Dad themselves because, you know, they get excited. ‘I can do it! I can do it!'”

Always remember if you have concerns about your child’s dexterity or development, talk with your pediatrician as soon as possible.