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My Toddler Won’t Open His Fist

    A toddler or infant presents a lot of parenting opportunities. It is a time for both parties involved to do a bit of learning. The child is a constant learning machine. A little human-AI evolving into HI (human intelligence).

    And the parent learns something new every day as well. Yes, it’s just one giant learning fest for all! Sometimes the learning process is inhibited by certain features getting in the way.

    The child is learning about how to feed himself but hates the high-chair. Or he can’t learn to bathe from a fear of water. Then there are physical factors blocking the learning process. Most would automatically assume the child has developmental problems or perhaps a learning disability. Maybe. Maybe not.

    The physical condition may just be certain muscle development being a bit behind schedule. Every child is different. And when they aren’t developing on schedule, we must realize they are all different.

    Give 5 adults all the same projects to finish in 24 hours. You will get the 5 projects finished at 5 different times. And none of them have any disabilities whatsoever.

    So let’s get back to our toddlers and look into the issue of a toddler who won’t open their fist. And a few ideas on teaching how to start opening their fist.

    Is it a fist or an in-turned thumb?

    Some toddlers do make a specific ‘normal’ type of fist. Look at the type of fist they make. You may come to realize their ‘fist’ is actually the result of them holding their thumb.

    There is an actual term other than the in-turned thumb. The professionals refer to it as ‘indwelling thumb syndrome.’ I like ‘in-turned thumb’ and leaving off the word syndrome.

    There is a stigma attached to the word ‘syndrome’ I’m sure you all agree. The reaction from the child may just be one of wanting to hold his thumb.

    Toddlers are little ‘grabbers,’ and the thumb is always there. So they grab it as a reflex to wanting to hold something. The fist may indicate the muscles need a good workout. Here are some ideas to get those tiny hands doing what they need to be doing.

    Muscle conditioning

    A toddler has both learning and learning to use their muscles all at the same time. Sometimes a few ‘wires’ get crossed. If something is difficult and beyond their simple comprehension, the response could be making a fist.

    The fist sends the message. I can’t do it. They need to learn how to integrate the muscles to solve the learning equation. Try holding their tiny fist firmly but not to the firm in your hands.

    Console them and tell them they can do the task you are trying to teach. The warmth from your hand is very comforting.

    Slowly release your hands from the fist, and their first reaction will be to open the fist, inviting you back for more. Do the fist holding several times during the day.

    Remember, the baby needs baby steps. Indulge them. Soon your child may react to your presence with an open hand. You have just started them toward conditioning the hand muscles to open on cue.

    Sensory perceptions

    Another excellent exercise appeals to their sense of feel. Gather up several different items with different textures. Show them, with your open hand, palm facing down, how to properly ‘feel’ these items.

    You could start with the items at hand. If you are on the floor with your child, open your palm and rub it across the carpet. Encourage them to do the same.

    Introduce new items regularly. Blankets, bed covers, washcloths, towels, and so on. Just take a look around the house.

    You have an enormous inventory of items of different textures. They may just look forward to the new ‘texture of the day’ routine you started.

    Motor skills

    Some toddlers are fist experts. Their little hand seems to be ‘glued’ in the first position. You can slowly break the tight fist a few steps at a time.

    Every child has a rattle. If they don’t, get one preferably with a thin handle or thin ring. Gently pry the fingers open enough to insert the rattle into the fist.

    Repeating the act over and over will eventually result in the desired motor skill to grasp items with an open hand.

    Teach them to release

    How many moms have had their infant or toddler grasp a handful of their hair and pull like mad? Thought so. Babies love to pull on hair, necklaces, earrings, anything attractive or appealing to them.

    Teach them how to release, on command. When the situation occurs, simply grasp the tiny fist and gently bend it at the wrist.

    The hand muscles will release the grip as a reflex to the bending. Whenever you see the fist, either in your hair or not, try the wrist bending exercise.

    Soon they will respond to a simple touch on the back of the hand as a command to release!

    Teach them how to push up

    Getting the child to imitate you is no problem. So try lying on the floor, belly down, and use your open handed palm to ‘push’ yourself up from the lying position.

    And of course, tell them how much fun it is. Encourage them to do the same. Lie them on their stomach and tell them to push their selves up, just like mom did.

    It may take a bit of practice and maybe should be used on the older toddlers. The exercise involves a few more muscles than just the ones in the hand. Proceed wisely.


    A tight fit is not an indicator of any condition, syndrome, or otherwise. It means the hands need to be taught what to do. And you, my intrepid parent, are the most awesome teacher on the planet!

    You already have the mindset your toddler can do anything. Apply the same to yourself. Together you can do everything! All is possible with a bit of love and affection.

    1 thought on “My Toddler Won’t Open His Fist”

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