Ways To Introduce Toddlers To Finger Painting

Finger painting can be really fun and allows one to express themselves without words. It is beneficial to both adults and children. However, not everyone enjoys the texture of paint and some people may not like the idea of getting messy on purpose. Over the years of working with children and adults in the autism spectrum, I come to know many ways to pin point who would enjoy finger painting and who would not. If your child pulls their hands away when you guide their finger towards paint- that would be a clear indicator that your child does not like the feel of paint. Or is it?

How Can You Find Out If Your Child Can Tolerate The Feel Of Paint?

I used the word tolerate because at first, you can not expect your child off the bat to love paint. I know it happens.

I worked with a child that enjoyed working with finger painting the first time he tried it. His case is different though. How will you know if your child can work with paint? You can start by modeling what you want your child to do. Place your finger into a small container of paint. Make sure it’s just about two drops of paint. You never know what will happen with kids. Show them that you did it and be sure to make it exciting so they can be encouraged to try something new. Then ask them to do it. If they do, add more paint and see if your child will be okay with more paint on their fingers. If they are, they’re good to go. If they are not, you have more steps to take.

One of my kiddos hates being dirty and always has to clean up when he gets messy. He cries if he can’t get himself clean.  In his case, I have to make sure I have everything assist him to accommodate his needs if I am going to do something that requires him to be messy like having clean clothing or towels on hand.

If you are starting off, I recommend starting your child with water beads. Why? Because it gets gooey and feels a little thick. It also will not get your child’s hands visibly dirty.

You can introduce them to playdoh. This is another way of getting their hands used to different set items that don’t get their hands completely messy.

All of these items may be difficult to use; the point is to test and see what your child can handle. If your child can’t place their hand inside a container of water beads, then place one water bead in their hand and soon enough they will be able to upgrade to items like paint. It’s all about baby steps. Your child had to crawl before they were able to run.

Once your child is used to or is more comfort with products such as water beads and/or playdoh, go back to the finger painting. It will be hard, but don’t give up. Remember to make it fun. Tell them their favorite story or ask them to paint their favorite character from a tv show so you can hang it up. Paint alongside them and let them be creative. Take baby steps and be sure to not place a minimum time that they should be engaging in the activity. Give them a chance to tell you that they are all done.

If your child wants to stop once they get a tiny amount of paint on their finger, don’t push them into continuing. I should also mention, if you don’t want a big mess, have your child sit in their highchair to paint. That will limit the mess that will be made once your child is ready to dive into finger painting. That may create an adverse effect and prevent your child from every finger painting, so listen to your child and respect their request. When you respect and grant their request, they will be more willing to continue attempts of finger painting.

So you’re not a parent? How Can You Help?

If you’re working with children in preschool or in early intervention programs, here is what you can do.

  • Make sure their are rules set. Example: Everyone who is painting come and get your aprons. Sit here with Ms./Mr. ____. When you are all done, use safe hands and wash your hands. (Safe hands: keeping your hands off of yourself or any items that you would be passing on your way to the sink for example).
  • Give the children participating in painting aprons.
  • Make sure to have their sleeves rolled up.
  • Be sure to provide support for those who need it.
  • If there is a child not using safe hands while painting, you can prompt them to be all done as they will be affecting other children. You should also find a replacement activity for that child so it doesn’t develop into a challenging behavior.
  • If there is a child who is uncomfortable with finger painting, ask them if they need help. If they say yes give the child a light physical prompt to place a tiny bit of paint on their finger and quickly place it on the paper. Deliver immediate peace of their efforts.
  • If the child pulls away ask them if they want to be all done. If they say yes, praise them for trying and be sure to say that they can try again another time.

Make the experience welcoming and don’t shame the child. Finger painting is all about expressing ones self. Let them do their thing.

I hope you found this blog helpful. If you have any questions feel free to email me at: sensorytoys1@gmail.com or post your question below. I would love for you to share your experience below if you are comfortable, that is.

2 thoughts on “Ways To Introduce Toddlers To Finger Painting”

  1. Rama, I haven’t children so haven’t finger painted since I was young. None of us had any qualms about getting filthy. What’s happening with the younger generation.

    We were outside most types of weather so found other ways to get filthy too. A way down out mountain road was a clay bank with springs in it. What a blast sliding down that. We looked like little otters when we got home. All brown, wet clay with only our eyes showing.

    No matter what the parents had the hoses ready.

    When we did finger paint, the paint we used was a special one that was bought. Is it still like this?

    Anyway a nice reminiscent, mess creating article. What fun.


    1. Thank you for raising such an important point. Many children do not have issues finger painting nor getting messy for that matter. However, some children on the autism spectrum experience difficulty exploring different senses and for that reason, I wrote this blog post. I have first hand worked with children who were diagnosed with sensory processing disorder who refuse to touch paint or when they do, they obsessively wipe it off and cry. In this case they need to be eased into feeling the paint and realizing that it is okay and that they are fine.

      Thank you again Helen for sharing your adventurous childhood story. I”m glad the post brought you back to your childhood. Sounds like you sure had a lot of fun!

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