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Why kids struggle with movement and coordination

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

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Kids can struggle with movement and coordination in different ways. Some kids have trouble learning small movements, like how to brush their teeth or hold a pencil. Others may struggle with big movements, like how to kick a ball or ride a bike. These all use different kinds of motor skills. 

Trouble learning motor skills doesn’t mean kids are lazy. Or that they’re not paying attention when you explain how to do something.

Kids may be struggling with different types of motor skills: 

  • Fine motor skills use the small muscles in our hands and wrists. Trouble in this area can make it hard to do things like write, type, and use zippers.

  • Gross motor skills use the large muscles in the torso, arms, and legs. Trouble with these whole-body movements can make it hard to run, jump, throw, and catch.

  • Motor planning is a skill that allows us to remember and perform a sequence of movements. Trouble in this area can make it hard to do things like wash hands or tie shoes.

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Some kids take longer to develop these skills and may just need more time to catch up. But others may need extra support to improve these skills.

Dive deeper

Examples of common movement challenges

Here are some common movements kids might have trouble with:

  • Getting dressed

  • Tying shoes

  • Holding a pencil

  • Handwriting and typing

  • Drawing and painting

  • Using scissors

  • Using utensils and cutting food

  • Solving jigsaw puzzles

  • Throwing and catching

  • Riding a bike

Kids who struggle with movement might also seem clumsy. They may move awkwardly and break or bump into things.

All kids develop coordination and motor skills at slightly different rates. But they tend to reach certain milestones at certain ages. 

See when kids typically develop coordination and motor skills .

What can cause trouble with movement

Some kids may just need more time and practice to develop movement skills. But if they lag far behind their peers, there may be an underlying reason.

A common cause of motor difficulties is a condition called developmental coordination disorder (DCD). You may also hear it called .

DCD is not a learning disability. But it can make it hard for kids to do schoolwork and participate in gym class. Kids don’t outgrow it, but they can improve their motor skills.

Learn more about DCD and what to do if you’re concerned about a child’s motor skills .

How to help kids with movement difficulties

No matter what’s causing a child’s movement trouble, there are ways to help. An important step is to take notes on what you’re seeing. If there’s a pattern that goes on for a while, you may want to talk to a child’s health care provider or the school nurse. They can be great sources of information and advice.

Parents and caregivers: Even if you’re not sure what’s going on with your child, you can still work on building motor skills at home.

Or hear from a dad on what he wishes people knew about his son’s difficulties with motor skills.

Educators: Keep in mind that kids who have trouble with motor skills might feel sad or embarrassed that they struggle to do things that come easily to other kids. Look for ways to boost kids’ confidence as you work through challenges.

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