Get a grip on left-handedness
Are you raising a left-handed child in a right-handed world?
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Do you feel like you are raising your left-handed child in a right-handed world? You might be concerned about how to help them when they learn to write, use cutlery, play an instrument or practice a new sport. Are you supposed to model some of these activities to them by switching to your left hand if you happen to be right-handed? Or should you let them figure it out as they go along?

The most important thing to remember is that left-handed children develop in exactly the same way as their right-handed peers. The dominance of one hand (or side) over another is determined by the brain and won’t be influenced by the way a child plays or by watching another person, like their parent, demonstrate certain tasks with a particular hand. Children who show a dominance for one side, but are then forced to perform tasks with the other hand, will still eventually master these tasks. However, it could take them a bit longer to do so and they their work might not be as neat and accurate as tasks completed with the naturally dominant side. 

Hand, foot, eye and ear dominance is determined by the development of the brain’s hemisphere specialisation. During a little one’s prenatal development, nerves cross from the one side of the brain to connect to muscles on the opposite side of the body. Therefore, a left-handed person simply has a better developed nerve network in the right side of their brain.

Hand dominance is only determined by the age of five and it is quite normal for children younger than this switch hands while doing activities. If you are still unsure of your pre-schoolers hand dominance at this age, pay close attention to which hand they use spontaneously when drinking from a cup, cutting with a pair of scissors, throwing a ball and drawing or writing. 

Hand and foot dominance usually correlates, but cross dominance is nothing to worry about! Some people are also ambidextrous and can use both sides equally well. However, it is often better for a child to have one dominant side which is more accurate and quicker during fine motor tasks.

It is important to note that the development of the pencil grip follows a predictable course for left and right-handed children. You will first see your little one hold a pencil with their entire hand and making use of shoulder movements to scribble or draw. Thereafter they will hold the pencil between the tips of the thumb, index finger and middle finger. By the age of five they should have a dynamic three-pointed grip like an adult and use fine, isolated hand movements to move the pencil. It is always a good idea to provide your child with a wide variety of writing tools and utensils to determine which they are more comfortable with. Wider diameter pencils do not improve performance when drawing or writing, but triangular pencils may facilitate the tripod grasp. 

Keep in mind that it is quite normal for your child to write with their left hand, but hold a pair of scissors with their right. However, left-handed scissors are available and would probably make it easier for your child to cut. 

Whether left or right-handed, it is always beneficial to encourage your child to practise good posture when drawing, colouring in or writing. Your little one should be seated with their feet firmly on the floor, next to each other and facing forward. Ask them to sit up straight with their shoulders in a straight line and parallel to the table. Your child’s head can be held somewhat forward and their back a little curved, but never to the extent that their chest is pressing against the table. The table surface should ideally be about 5cm above elbow level when bent and the distance between their eyes and the paper or book should be about 20cm. Position the page in the middle of their body and parallel their dominant hand’s forearm when rested on the table. Right-handed children may slant the top of their page approximately 25 degrees to the left, with the paper just right of the body’s midline (the imaginary line dividing the body in two halves). Left-handed children may slant the top of the paper approximately 35 degrees to the right with the paper placement to the left of the midline. 

Remember that is always a good idea to encourage your child to lie on their tummy or stand while writing or drawing at any age! 

Mysmartkid is South Africa's leading programme for Early Childhood Development (ECD). Click here to join the programme.

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