Which Hand Will My Child Use?
by Kids Place Occupational Therapists
Are you a righty or a lefty? 9 out of 10 of you will be right handed while one of you is either left handed or ambidextrous. Your dominant hand is determined in utero, but it takes several years of motor learning and experience to truly develop that specific dominance. So, at what age should you know which glove to go out and purchase?
Typical children express a consistent dominant hand between 4 and 6 years old. It is very common for children learning to cut and write to explore with both hands. It is also very important to allow children to decide which hand is most comfortable for them rather than forcing one hand over the other. Our brains determine the hand we choose. For right handers, the left side of the brain dominates their fine motor control. For lefties, the right side of the brain is in control. When a left handed child is forced to write with their right hand, we are asking them to suppress the natural strengths of their right brain and recruit parts of their left brain that are not developed to perform these skills. This can result in increased anxiety or even stammering in children. This can also result in decreased performance in other motor skill areas.
How is handedness developed?
Development of hand skills begins in infancy as a child explores their environment. Your baby will learn by bringing hands to their mouths and grasping toys. Crawling, and other activities that promote weight bearing, are crucial for the development of arches in the hands. These activities also build strength and control of the entire upper extremity, which is crucial for fine motor skill development.
Once a child begins to sit and stand more independently, they are able to manipulate smaller and more complex toys. At this stage, we expect children to reach for toys with both hands as well as transfer toys between both hands. By 2 years of age, children will start to color and by 3, they should be able to snip with scissors. Both of these skills should be explored with both hands. As they perform these skills more consistently and with higher demands, a child will gradually decide which hand is most comfortable and tend to use that hand more. Between 4 and 6 years old, your child will show a consistent hand preference.
When should I be concerned?
If an infant or toddler shows a STRONG hand preference to either side.
If a child cannot reach across the midline of their body to grasp a toy/utensil or cannot switch toys between both hands,
If a child over 6 years of age continues to switch hands consistently during fine motor tasks such as writing, cutting, feeding with utensils due to fatigue.
If a child over 6 years of age switches hands on utensils at the midline of their body due to inability to reach across the midline.
How can I help?
Encourage upper body weight bearing tasks throughout development including tummy time (this does not end when they grow up), crawling, side sitting, animal walks, monkey bars, etc.
Practice reaching across the body for toys.
Present toys in the middle of their body to let them choose a hand to reach.
Practice activities that require both hands together; one as a primary and one to stabilize such as cutting, stringing beads, push together or pull apart toys, etc.
If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to a Kids Place therapist!