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Dr. Sylvia Rimm


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Handwriting Problems Very Common for Boys


I received many responses to a question I answered from parents who were childhood dysgraphics and were concerned about their 4-year-old son's frustration at having to color within the lines in day care. In my answer, I had recommended that their son meet with an occupational therapist and also that the parents request that the teacher provide the child with larger pictures. I also suggested their son might enjoy dot-to-dot pictures and mazes to help him develop his small muscle coordination skills. I've included some of the responses I've received and my answers to them.

Q. Will you please define dysgraphia for readers like me who have never heard the word before?

A. Dysgraphia refers to severe handwriting problems. More boys than girls struggle with handwriting.

Q. Perhaps you could pass on this suggestion from our son's occupational therapist. She suggested using colored glue to outline large, simple pictures. Let the glue dry thoroughly. Then, when the 4-year-old colors, his crayon will bump into the glue line. The colored glue and the bump will help him visually see the line and also tactically feel the line. This helped our son greatly, although he hasn't become great at coloring, nor does he like it. He prefers drawing with a mechanical pencil on graph paper.

Another idea is to keep an "art" type box in the car. Ours contained crayons, markers, paper, a glue stick, tactile "things" (pompoms, rickrack), small books and other creative type things. As our son grew older, he added things to the box that kept him busy on our frequent drives. I hope these suggestions help.

A. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

They may help many young children.

Q. While I understand that the article on "Preschooler's Inability To Color In The Lines Could Be Inherited" was speaking about a possible medical problem, the fact that anyone would insist that children color within the lines appalls me! Why restrict a child's creativity? Give them a large, blank sheet of paper and tons of colors and let them express themselves! Preprinted coloring books should be used only as a last resort and only for older children. I've worked with children and wouldn't dream of telling them what or how they can color!

A. While preschoolers should have plenty of opportunity for creative art to encourage their spontaneity and originality, coloring within the lines serves an entirely different purpose. It develops the small muscle coordination that prepares children for printing and handwriting that follows in kindergarten and first grade. It's usually a fun and happy exercise for children, but for this little boy, and for many others, it became an opportunity to identify a potential problem early enough to work to improve it. Good preschool programs can provide time for both creativity and development of the small muscles needed for handwriting.

For a free newsletter about pencil anxiety, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or go to for more information.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



4 Comments | Post Comment
I teach an early intervention preschool in MD. I have found that some students (usually boys) have weaker hand muscles. Activities like playing with play dough, using smaller legos, and squeezing a small squishy ball will build up hand muscles and increase the child's endurance for holding a pencil. I like to vary writing materials too. It's pretty hard to stay in the lines with a fat crayon. Colored pencils make this task easier. Provide some high interest coloring books in addition to the usual pictures. A boy might not have any desire to color a flower, but a Spiderman coloring book will motivate him to finish a picture. Create a display area so that he is motivated to his best work. Finally, mazes and puzzles might be more appealing to a child who doesn't love to color.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Stephanie
Sun May 18, 2008 7:42 AM
The people who need help here, and not just occupational therapist help but serious psychiatric help, are those of you who would actually put glue around coloring lines to control the crayon of a child. You have "Pathologically Obsessive Parenting Disorder" (POPD) and need help fast!! Either that or you just have way too much time on your hands to worry about everything. This may come as a shock, but (a) some kids don't even want to color in the lines, (b) kids develop at all kinds of rates, and (c) it will all kick in eventually, and the fact your kid didn't color within the lines when he was 4 will be entirely irrelevant to anything.
Take a pill and bring your kid to the park to smell the roses.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Linda
Sat Sep 12, 2009 7:19 AM
Hello, I live in spain and have a 3 year old girl tht draws very well but doesn´t like coloring in and her teacher says she should be doing it... she does do it, but she gets bored half way through.... what should her abilities be at 3????
Comment: #3
Posted by: Anna
Tue Nov 9, 2010 1:15 AM
Creativity is important, yes, but are you saying that children should have no experience with discipline and control? An adult whlse handwriting sprawls all over the page would not be a good thing. Some children don't like drawing on blank paper because they don't have the ability to make the picture look like what they want. Coloring books enable a child (or even adult!) to make a picture that that satisfies their creative insticts in choice of color, and compensates for their inability to draw.
Comment: #4
Posted by: partsmom
Wed May 9, 2012 9:57 AM
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