While young children will often experiment with using both hands, pediatrician Linda L. Shaw — herself a leftie — says, "It is generally possible to tell the handedness (whether he or she is a 'rightie' or a 'leftie') of a child by about the age of 3 or 4 years."
Kerstin Potter MS OTR, director of the Early Childhood Education program at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, agrees that it may take some time for your child to figure it out. "Which hand a child prefers will gradually become clear as he or she gets older," she says, noting that some children even take until kindergarten or first grade to show their preference.
You can encourage hand development by providing your son or daughter with lots of things to do with his hands, like playdoh, crayons and ball play, says Potter. "Place these objects in front of the child, rather than to the side, and you will see that hand preference will develop naturally."
While about nine in 10 people are right-handed, left-handed people are just as functional as right-handers.
Dr. Shaw explains, "Left-handed individuals have what is called 'mixed dominance' of the brain, and are often able to do many activities with either hand." Potter says that since hand dominance is thought to be connected to which side of the brain is dominant, left-handers tend to have unusually good visual/spatial skills — in fact, some famous left-handers include Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Picasso.
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A SheKnows reader writes, "I have a toddler who will be 3 in November. I have recently learned that his father has been forcing him to use his right hand. This concerns me, as I believe that my son will eventually gravitate to one hand or the other. His father does not accept this." She asks, "I would be grateful if you could provide a reference to the current wisdom on right/left handedness and allowing a child to choose."
Kerstin Potter says, "Handedness is considered to be inborn, not learned — therefore, 'training handedness' is really working against the natural development of a child and places stress on the developing brain." Dr. Shaw agrees. "Although 'switching' handedness for writing is possible, it is generally recommended to allow the child to use whichever hand he/she prefers." She adds, "Being left-handed is not a handicap, just a normal variant."
"Trying to 'teach' handedness is like trying to teach a caterpillar to fly — frustrating for all involved!" says Potter. "Wait a bit, and it will happen naturally."
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