Issues involving movement

My Child Is Fumbling With Scissors. What Can I Do?

By Nelson Dorta

My daughter is midway through first grade and is still fumbling a lot with scissors. She’s left-handed, and I got her special left-handed scissors. But even cutting with those scissors is very hard for her. What can I do to help?

Nelson Dorta

Pediatric Neuropsychologist

Cutting with scissors is actually a very complex skill for little ones to master. It requires:

  • Fine motor skills: This refers to the precise movement and control of an object like a pencil or a pair of scissors.
  • Visuomotor coordination skills: This involves coordinating movement with a “visual” target, such as cutting out a pattern or catching a ball.

Being left-handed does not increase the chance that your daughter has a problem with fine motor or visuomotor coordination skills.

Is cutting with scissors is the only area you see difficulty in her motor skills? Then it’s most likely an issue of needing more practice using scissors and does not reflect a broader problem. If this is the case, encourage her to practice cutting along patterns every day. One way to motivate her to practice is to have her color these cutouts and display them in your home so she can see that you’re proud of her work.

However, it’s important to consider whether your child has trouble with other activities that involve motor skills. Examples might include:

  • Struggling to eat with a spoon or fork
  • Having trouble using zippers or buttons
  • Finding it hard to write her name and simple words
  • Avoiding toys like Legos
  • Having trouble catching a ball

If your first grader struggles with most of these or if she’s very clumsy overall, talk to your pediatrician. It’s possible your child’s doctor may want her to see an expert in this area of child development. Neuropyschologists, physiatrists and physical therapists can perform more detailed tests to help you understand your child’s issues with motor skills.

If these tests show a problem, there are several therapies that can help strengthen these skills. If your child qualifies for special education, these therapies can be accessed at her school at no cost to you.

One more thing—and I’m mentioning this out of an abundance of caution: If your child was good at the varied skills I discussed above (like eating with a spoon) but slowly over time has become less skilled at most of them, talk to your child’s doctor.

It’s possible you might be seeing signs of a neurodegenerative disorder. These are very, very rare. But if you’re at all concerned, it’s a good idea to call the doctor. Remember—it’s our job to answer parents’ questions. There’s no reason to hesitate to ask.

About the Author

Portrait of Dr. Nelson Dorta

Nelson Dorta is a pediatric neuropsychologist and an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University.

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