If you’re wondering whether your child will be right or left-handed, you may be in for a wait. Some babies and toddlers show a hand preference right away, but it’s normal for them to experiment with using both hands as they learn how to interact with the world.
Still, it is important to develop a dominant hand. Here’s why, and what you can do to support the process.
Why is Hand Dominance Important?
We need a dominant hand to precisely and efficiently complete hand-related tasks. One hand must get really good at being the “worker” while the other hand gets really good at being the “helper.”
When we button a shirt, for instance, our non-dominant, helping hand holds the fabric around the buttonhole steady while our dominant, working hand grasps the button and pushes it through the buttonhole. Or, if we’re cutting paper, our helping hand holds and turns the paper while our working hand grasps the scissors and cuts.
Just as a professional sports player repeatedly plays the same position in order to get really good at it, our hands must eventually stick with being either the worker or the helper so we can master hand-related skills.
Your child may not consistently use a dominant hand until he’s about 4 years old. That said, there are important related skills you can nurture now that will help him develop one later.
How To Support the Process of Developing of a Dominant Hand
Be sure your little one has plenty of opportunities to work on these:
Crossing the Midline — To develop a dominant hand, your child must practice crossing her midline (an imaginary line from head to toe that divides the two sides of the body). Eventually this will allow her emerging worker hand to get the practice it needs. Children who struggle with midline crossing must continuously switch hands during tasks, so one hand doesn’t get enough practice to become dominant.
Bilateral Coordination — In order for each hand to embody its role as either worker or helper, a child must be able to coordinate both sides of her body to work together.
Muscle Strength — For some children weak muscles interfere with developing a dominant hand, simply because they don’t have the stamina to complete a task with one hand. Instead, they switch hands partway through. As a result, one hand doesn’t get the practice time it needs to become dominant.
Now, Let Your Child Take Her Time Figuring Out Which Hand She Prefers
As long as your child has plenty of practice with midline crossing, bilateral coordination, and manipulating objects with her hands, you can let her experiment with using both hands in different ways as she figures out what works best.
Above all, experts warn that correcting a baby or toddler to use a certain hand not only disrupts the natural evolution of hand dominance, it may also result in confusion and stress.
Because hand dominance IS important in kindergarten, check in with your pediatrician if your child’s hand dominance isn’t clear by the time he’s about 4 years old.