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How do I know if my child is left or right handed?  When should I know?   

Before a child can develop a “dominant” hand that is skilled for holding a pencil or scissors, they need to be able to use both hands together.

The ability to use both hands together (and both sides of the body at the same time) in a coordinated way is called bilateral coordination.

Both sides of the body may be doing the same action (eg. clapping, using a rolling pin or jumping) or alternating movements (eg. crawling or skipping).

As this develops, children learn to reach across their body to the space of other side to reach for toys (crossing the midline).

If this hasn’t developed you may see your child switch their crayon from their left hand to the right hand as they draw across a page.

As a child develops bilateral coordination, they develop a stronger (dominant) side that works at something whilst the other (non dominant side) assists and helps with stability.

This is seen in hopping, writing, cutting, threading and lots of two handed activities.

The dominant side is often called the “worker hand” and the non dominant side is called the “helper hand”.

This generally emerges consistently when a child is 3 or 4 years and becoming skilled at playing with their hands and should be established when they begin school (at about 5 years).

Whilst some people are ambidextrous (use both hands skilfully), this is quite rare.  Choosing a dominant hand will help your child to develop accuracy and speed for fine motor activities.

How can you help?

  • Place objects in the midline (in the middle) so your child can choose their dominant side.
  • As preschoolers get ready for school, they should spend lots of time doing activities that encourage bilateral coordination (such as play dough, threading, folding and ripping paper, block play, cutting, painting, drawing, stamping, ball play, hammering, climbing, playing musical instruments, etc).
  • Little hands may also tire easily if they have not developed fine motor skills.  Encourage lots of activities (this list above is a good start) that will help to develop fine motor skills and may reduce switching hands.
  • In the months before school, help your child to develop a “worker” hand and “helper” hand. Usually a child will have chosen a hand by using it most of the time with the occasion switch to the other hand to do the “work”.

Has your child developed hand dominance? 

  • My kids are all right handed, like mum and dad. I use my right hand for everything (it’s typing now!) but my mobile phone. For sone reason it’s my left hand for that, I can’t use it in my right hand for some reason

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  • All mine are right handed but will use a fork in the right hand. Like their mum!

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  • Two of my children still use both hands to do different things.

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  • How interesting, something I’ve never thought of before!

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  • my parents are both lefties, my partner and i are lefties but all our children seem to be righties lol

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  • My kids seem to write with both hands mmm

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  • I also knew by which hand they would grab theobject with

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  • Thanks for this interesting article.

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  • I’m left handed as was my mum and her mum. I’m pretty sure my daughter is right handed and I’m a little worried I won’t be able to teach her to crochet and sew. I would have loved to pass the left handed baton on for another generation.


    • What a lovely tradition passed down through generations. I’m sure you will work out teaching your daughter whether she is right or left handed. Good luck

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  • it is so cute and funny watching them swapping hands all day

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  • My little man is only 23 months and he always seems to use his left hand the most. great article.


    • Keep encouraging both hands at this age even if they show preference to one side. Thanks for your comment.

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  • I was a colic baby and as the Dr. couldn’t offer my Mum any helpful advice (he was just out of medical school and suggested she take me to the Childrens’ Hospital) I saw a paeditician for about 8 months, By that time he was suspicious that I was left handed. Apparently he handed me my rattle several times and no matter where he positioned it I took it with my left hand. He did some other tests and came to the conclusion that I am a definite left handed, and that nobody should try to change me. I eat right handed with a knife and fork which is OK because you put your fork in your left hand to put food in your mouth, but I use a dessert spoon in my left hand. I knit right handed as I had patient teachers prepared to work out methods to help me. I sew left handed


    • That is really interesting. Thanks for your comment.



      • Thank you. I have to admit some things were very frustrating to perfect, including the angle of cursive writing that was used when I was at school. I mastered that by putting my book the opposite angle. Learning some things taught by a right handed person was the hardest. Which ever way you watched from you still had to “convert” your method. I wasn’t a very outgoing confident child at that age either.

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  • some really great tips in here!

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  • Ambidextrous here and only because when I started school I was told to use my right hand.
    I favour my right hand for writing, however when I make a concious decision to use my left hand to write it just feels more comfortable, I can only use a knife and fork as a right handed person but for everything else I feel ok using either hand.


    • Thanks for your comment.



      • I don’t know how old you are but my first teacher reckoned there was no such thing as left handed and I got slapped across the back of my left hand. = Parent/Teacher discussion with reference to paediatrician report if required. Teacher backed down in a hurry.

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  • one child in this house had major issues trying to figure out what hand he preferred to work with. In the end he settled for his left and it has been a hard road for him


    • I’m sorry to hear that it has been difficult for your child. Can you get support?

    Reply

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