Even if you and your partner are 100 percent right-handed, your toddler might already be using her left hand more often than its counterpart. It’s estimated that only around 15 percent of people are left-handed — a fun fact your child your child can use to her benefit when she’s playing two truths and a lie — but as a little one, it may be a frustrating difference.
Ahead of International Lefthanders Day 2017 on Aug. 13, clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Stephanie O’Leary shares her best advice on how to raise your little southpaw.
Just how early is too early to try to decipher your child’s preferred hand? O’Leary says in some children, you might notice subtle signs of dominant hand choice as early as 6 months when they begin reaching for items. Which hand do they extend? Left or right? That simple tug at your necklace could give you insight. “You may be able to see one hand being used more consistently than the other. This may be an early sign of hand preference, and children who will eventually be lefties will favor their left hand,” she explains.
Once they’re toddlers, they might not be able to write or say the alphabet yet, but pay attention to how they move with their limbs. O’Leary recommends parents roll a ball to their children and observe which hand they use to roll it back to you. “Children typically prefer to use the hand that is stronger and more dexterous, which oftentimes will be their dominant hand. If you consistently see your child choosing his or her left hand, that may be an early clue regarding left-handedness,” she explains.
The same goes for when they begin to feed themselves. Resist the urge to place the fork in their hand for them, and instead, see which hand they naturally use.
If you’re noticing the signs and your mama Spidey-sense is ticking, you might be curious about what a left-handed status actually means for your child. Over the years, lefties have been researched extensively, and the most common findings regarding developmental differences aren’t in their cursive writing or which side of their body is stronger, but in the design of their brains. “For most people, language processing is located in the left side of the brain. However, lefties are more likely to have language centers located in the right side of the brain or spread more evenly across both sides, explains O’Leary. “Developmentally, children will go through the same stages and phases regardless of their hand preference.”
However, the difficulty for your child — and perhaps for you too — is adjusting to a world that’s biased toward right-handedness. “Depending on how this is managed, children will either learn to advocate for their needs and adapt with confidence or possibly feel marginalized if their hand dominance pattern is not respected and fostered,” warns O’Leary.
O’Leary recommends resisting the urge to overthink your child’s hand dominance. “The exact mechanisms by which hand dominance occurs are not fully understood,” she explains. As long as you remain positive, your child will feed off your optimistic and no-big-deal attitude. Most research suggests there are “no significant long-term implications with regard to hand preference, so your parental energy is best spent on areas of development you do have the ability to influence, such as providing appropriate play and learning opportunities,” she suggests.
Because you probably haven’t given a second thought to which hand you use to brush your teeth, open the door or pick up a tennis racquet, your natural instinct is to teach your children these motor skills by showing, instead of explaining. This might make your children feel insecure if they can’t mirror your behavior exactly, so O’Leary suggests shifting your mentality. “If your child is a lefty — and you’re not — take the time to break down each step of a motor task and adjust your approach to account for your child’s hand preference. This will reduce frustration for both you and your child,” she says.
Unlike parents of right-handers, you need to be acutely aware of the obstacles that could present challenges to your lefty. But instead of expressing your annoyance or complaining, O’Leary encourages parents to become an advocate for their child’s difference, and more important, empower them to speak up for themselves when they need a slight adjustment. “There are many experiences geared towards right-handed individuals, so being on the lookout for adaptations and modifications that can be made for your child is a must,” she says. “This also allows your child to increase awareness of his or her needs, and eventually work toward self-advocating, where they might ask for a different desk position or pair of scissors.”