As soon as a baby starts reaching for things, parents tend to start wondering if their child will be left or right handed.
Hand preference (or dominance) isn’t something your child chooses. They were created with it already determined for them by their brain and genetics. A couple of studies have even shown that hand dominance may even be seen as early as the womb when a child waves their arm or sucks their thumb.
Determining if Your Child is Left or Right Handed
Although your baby’s handedness has already been established, you still have to determine what it is. (I’m here to help you with that part – that’s what this article is for!😊) Usually, children begin to show definite patterns somewhere between 3 and 4 yrs old. (Others a little earlier or later)
My Child Uses Both Hands
Up until sometime between 2 and 3 years old, children are likely to use both hands for different tasks. One day the fork is in the right hand and the next it’s in the left. With only 1% of the population being ambidextrous, there is a 99% chance that’s not the case in your child’s situation.
So why is your child using both hands if they were already born with a preference?
Because they can.
They are learning new skills. They don’t know yet that one day they will prefer using one hand over the other soon.
What if Your Child Keeps Switching Hands?
Switching back and forth during the same tasks is also common in toddlers and preschoolers. If you find that your child is switching back and forth, from one hand to the other it’s probably for one of two reasons:
1. Their Hands are Tired
If your child keeps switching items back and forth, it may be because their hand muscles are not developed enough yet and they are becoming tired before they finish what they’re trying to accomplish – so they switch hands.
In this case, they just need more time to strengthen their hand muscles and develop their fine motor skills. Continue giving them plenty of opportunities to use their hands.
Once their muscles have strengthened and developed they will be able to stick to a task longer without having to switch back and forth as much.
2. It May be a Midline Crossing Challenge
Midline Crossing refers to an imaginary line that runs down the center of your child’s body and makes it a challenge for them to reach over to the other side with the hand they’re working with.
You can help your child crossover their midline with activities that get them moving their hand to the opposite side of their body.
For example, have them take their right hand and put it on their left ear, shoulder, elbow, knee, or foot, and vice versa. Make a game out of it. Put on some music. Jack Hartman has a Crossover Song that is perfect for working on this skill.
- Here are some other activity ideas:
- Taking their shoes and socks off
- Sweeping and mopping – they can use a child’s size broom and mop. The concept works even if your house doesn’t get clean. – lol
- Using musical instruments like sticks or a tambourine where they’re using both hands.
- Sorting things into piles that make them reach to the opposite side
- Crossing the Midline Low Prep Activity – The OT Butterfly
Left or Right Hand Observation Form
I have also created a free observation form you can download to observe and note whether your child is using their right or left hand for different activities. This would best be used with children at least 18 months old. If you find your child is switching back and forth often or both hands are used about the same, you may want to wait and strengthen their hand muscles a little more and try again later.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you’ve determined your child’s dominance, encourage them to practice using that hand for all their activities.
As you give your child plenty of opportunities to explore with their hands, they will build up strength and you will soon start to see one hand being used over the other. It may not be consistent, but you should start to see a pattern preference.
Be sure to check out more motor skills activities:
- Mastin, Luke. “What is Handiness.” Right Left Right Wrong?
- Nelson, Eliza L et al. “The home handedness questionnaire: pilot data from preschoolers.” Laterality vol. 24,4 (2019): 482-503. doi:10.1080/1357650X.2018.154
- OT Mom Learning Activities. Crossing the Midline
- Spinney, Laura. “Handiness Develops in the Womb” New Scientist 22 July 2004. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6186-handedness-develops-in-the-womb/