Is it ok if my child is ambidextrous?
Does it matter if they use both hands to hold the pencil when writing?
Does it matter if they use their left hand for some things and their right hand for others?
Research shows that the percentage of true ambidextrous (mixed dominance –where there is no clear choice) people in the community is quite small. If your child’s lack of a clear dominance is not affecting their functional tasks then they may be ambidextrous. There are several factors to be aware before being satisfied with this conclusion.
Questions to consider regarding hand dominance and what you can do about it!
Is your child less than 4 years of age?
Research shows that hand dominance can develop at different ages for different children. A hand preference usually develops between the ages of 2 to 4 years, with hand dominance being established from 4 to 6 years of age. In the brain, cerebral dominance is localized to one hemisphere (ie. lateralized brain) when hand dominance is established.
The demands of school (ie. handwriting, cutting, etc) can mean that children are encouraged at an early age to “pick” a hand to be the “worker” hand.
Can your child use either hand for an extended period of time? Are they swapping hands because one hand gets “tired”?
Your child’s hands may tire as they may have poor upper body strength, fine motor skills and/or hand strength. Read more about this here.
Does your child use their left hand on the left side of their body and their right hand when doing something on the right side of their body?
Children who do this may have difficulty with “crossing the midline”. The “midline” is the imaginary line running through the middle of a person separating left and right sides of the body. The ability to “cross the midline” is an important skill for kids every day. Read more about “crossing the midline” here.
Does your child have difficulty with two handed activities which require one had to be the “worker” and the other hand to be the “helper”?
Examples of these sorts of activities include threading beads onto a string, using scissors and manipulating paper, using a toy screwdriver and holding a screw, sharpening a pencil etc.
Children need to be able to use both hands simultaneously to do the same action and also to do complimentary actions. This is called bilateral coordination and you can read more about it here.
What can you do to help your child with hand dominance?
- Place objects (eg. scissors, glue sticks, cup, pencil, puzzle piece) in the child’s midline (in the middle) to encourage children to “pick” which hand will reach for the object. Some children will pick objects placed on the left side just because they are placed on that side (and vice versa with right).
- As you observe your child’s hand preferences, encourage your child to “pick” a dominant hand prior to starting school. This may include encouraging them to complete an activity without swapping hands or to cross the midline during activities.
- Encourage lots of bilateral coordination activities – using both hands simultaneously as well as in complimentary actions.
- Help your child label their hands and be aware of their developing dominance. The dominant being the “worker” or “doing” hand and the non dominant being the “helper” hand.
- Please contact a paediatric occupational therapist if you have concerns with regard to your child’s development of hand dominance.
Left or right, does your child have clear hand dominance?
Cindy Chuan is a registered Occupational Therapist practising in Sydney Australia. She has two young children who are a constant source of inspiration and learning. Cindy loves working creatively to help children to reach their potential, finding opportunities in everyday living and making learning fun. Cindy is the author of the occupational therapy blog Your Kids OT.
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