As a parent, I love trying to predict the inscrutable future. Will my daughter like gymnastics or ballet? Mac and cheese or lasagna? Reading a book alone or socializing in a crowd? Recently, though, I've been wondering about hand dominance. At 16 months old, she seems pretty ambidextrous to me, but I'm watching for the tell-tale signs that she really prefers one hand over the other. Turns out, there are some
early signs of being left-handed, and there are things you can (and can't) do to help hand dominance develop on schedule.
"Parents should know that hand dominance is something that happens naturally for most children," explains occupational therapist
Keri Wilmot of Understood.org, in an email interview with Romper. "Just like many children learn to walk and talk, it’s another skill that emerges over time, as part of normal development."
Most children will show a preference for one hand over the other between the
ages of 2 and 3, according to Momtastic, but, as with everything else, this will vary for individual children, and some won't show true hand dominance until much later — even as late as age 5 or 6. Interestingly, only 10 percent of children are left-handed, reported Parents.
For your baby, developing a dominant hand is a process of discovery. By offering them opportunities to practice their fine motor skills and by carefully observing them as they interact with their ever-growing world, you can take this journey right along with them.
Even before your baby is born, he has a genetic predisposition to being left-handed. For one thing, boys are more likely than girls to
be left-handed, reported Momtastic, and children with one lefty parent are twice as likely as the general population to scribble with their left, reported CNN. Two lefty parents further increases the odds, reported BackUp Care, giving their children a 25 to 50 percent chance of left-handedness.
Whatever their genetic background, babies start out using both hands interchangeably, and according to Wilmot, it's important that they have this opportunity to develop strength on both sides. In fact, an obvious preference for one hand over the other before your baby turns 1 year old is something you should mention to your pediatrician, because it could signal
a motor delay, according to Momtastic.
"At first, young children will use both hands to complete activities like stacking blocks," says Wilmot. Gradually, however, you'll notice your baby favoring one hand over the other, especially in daily tasks, like playing or eating.
Left-handed children will eventually begin holding or stabilizing their cereal bowl with their non-dominant (right) hand, while manipulating the spoon with their more dextrous left. If you notice your young baby favoring one hand at meal time, don't do anything to reinforce it. Instead, just let it happen naturally as your
child's coordination improves.
"Many times we inadvertently reinforce the use of a hand by always putting something on a certain side of their high chair or handing them an item and placing it in one hand," says Wilmot. In this case, however, the process of developing hand dominance is valuable in and of itself. Try placing a piece of food or a utensil smack in the middle of your child's tray and see which hand they use without encouragement from you.
According to Momtastic, left-handed children will
stir a pot counterclockwise when they play pretend in the kitchen with you — or, you know, underfoot while you're trying to cook a real meal — while right-handed children will tend to whisk clockwise. Neat, huh?
As the world turns, babies become toddlers, and toddlers become preschoolers learning to use those kid-safe scissors. According to Wilmot, hand dominance actually matters most for children in preschool and kindergarten, who scribble, write, and draw all day. Having a preferred, stronger hand helps them to be more "efficient and automatic" as they learn crucial new skills.
"If a child is not showing a hand dominance and it is impacting their ability to complete activities their peers are doing, then it might mean that their skills are developmentally delayed and speaking with
an occupational therapist about it might be helpful," says Wilmot. Some examples of activities that benefit from a stronger hand include using scissors to cut out shapes (while a non-dominant hand supports the paper), she says, drawing shapes or letters, and self-feeding with a fork or spoon without excessive spilling.
Not surprisingly, southpaws will generally prefer to
kick a ball with their left leg, according to Made for Mums, and they'll have better balance on their left when standing on one leg, too. Just keep in mind that this isn't a definitive sign in the early years, as kids want to experiment with both sides.
In fact, according to Backup Care, daily, automatic activities like eating and grooming are a better
sign of hand dominance than which hand they use to catch a ball.
I don't know a parent of a toddler who doesn't own a million crayons, and that's a good thing. Play is more than just "play" for young kids who use toys to develop important cognitive and motor skills, day in and day out. As noted before, left-handed children will do the most complex work with their left hand, and that includes scribbling on a kid's menu.
"Play helps improve hand dominance, especially activities that involve using the small muscles of the hand," Wilmot observes. "There are many
activities that can help with fine motor skill development, but some fun activities to try include coloring with crayons, cutting with scissors, painting, stacking blocks, stringing beads, eating with utensils, completing puzzles, and manipulating sensory textures like Play-Doh." Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload , where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.