My son always breaks his pencil lead!

During remote learning, I noticed that my son, who is 1st grade, was always writing really dark and breaking his pencil lead. I keep trying to remind him not to press so hard but it doesn’t seem to be helping. My other son seems to hold his pencil with the right amount of pressure. Do you know why this could be?

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Great question!! This is fairly common. However it does indicate a possible dysregulation in one of his sensory systems. Pencil breaking usually means that he is seeking extra input into his hands to understand and complete his letter formations. And to process the new information he is learning. If there are no other behaviors that you find notable such as falling frequently or poor safety awareness it may be that he needs something as simple as a rubber pencil grip, or to chew gum while writing. He is seeking extra muscle input and these can help in relieving the tension from the hands. Try those tricks and let us know if it resolves.

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A few other suggestions to try are to provide proprioceptive input (heavy work) prior to writing (Ex. bear walk, wall push) to give input into his hands. You can also try putting a piece of cardboard or foam under his paper to provide awareness when he’s pushing to hard (you can flip it over and He can feel the indentation, or if he pushes too hard the paper will rip). Another fun activity I’ve done is to use colored pencils and practice making designs and coloring by pressing harder to make a dark color and light to make a light color to help him improve ability to grade pressure.

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Love these suggestions!!!

@momofboys This is a great question and there are many wonderful suggestions from @TheOTway and @NicoletheCOTA! Some children will break their leads frequently due to a combination of factors, but mostly in the schools I see this when kids have weak or underdeveloped intrinsic hand muscles (small muscles in the hand) or they have difficulties processing proprioceptive input, as mentioned above.

Sometimes, when kids don’t have adequate strength in their hands, they will compensate by using more gross grasps i.e. using more of their fingers to stabilize the pencil, or wrapping their thumbs around the shaft of the pencil for extra stability. In an effort to stabilize and control the pencil, some of that force is also exerted downward onto the paper, which can result in more broken leads.

Anther piece to this is the ability to process proprioceptive input to know how much force is needed to adequately use the right amount of force when writing on a paper.

Does this make sense?

So, first I would check out his pencil grasp and see if he is holding his pencil with the preferred tripod grasp and to see if when he writes, he is moving his hand/wrist independent from his forearm. If his grasp is all good, then I would think it may be more of a force issue and I love all of the suggestions above i.e. animal walking, wall pushups to get input. Another trick I’ve used is to give a child a mechanical pencil because if he/she presses too hard, the lead breaks, and it gives instant feedback about pressure. Keep us updated and let us know if you have any questions! :slight_smile:

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Hello! One other thing to consider is possibly a retained palmar reflex grasp. Check to see if he can touch the very tips of each of his fingers to tips of his thumb individually. See if he can produce a big circle (not teardrop on finger pad). Make sure all subsequent fingers are extended, not curled.

There are palmar reflex integration exercises he can do if this is the problem! I can share on another post.

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Yes, I’ve heard more and more about how a retained palmar reflex can impact handwriting. I’ve also heard that a retained ATNR can impact pencil grasp too! Would you share the exercises that you’ve had success with?
Thanks! :slight_smile: @crystalvaldez

@TheOTway Now that you’re mentioning it, he does always seem to be in motion and I would categorize him as a little “rough” when he plays. He is so lovable but even his hugs are intense lol

Since this seems to be a pattern, what do you suggest?

@NicoletheCOTA thank you! I will try the bear walking like you suggested. I remember doing that in elementary gym class. :slight_smile: Thanks!

Anything deep pressure. Weighted blanket on him at bedtime, couch cushion sandwich (squish him in between the cushions), carrying or pushing heavy items for you ( ie. grocery cart) Jumping jacks, push ups, crunchy or chewy foods like gummy bears. Resistant putty to pinch and pull. Anything you can think of that satisfies that deep pressure need. Try these especially before sitting down to work at the table.

If this doesn’t work. You may need an OT assessment for visual motor or visual perceptual deficits and or vestibular dysfunction as well as primitive reflexes. ATNR AND STNR affect these skills as well. I know this is a lot of info but I hope this helps!!