Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

October 10, 2016

Handedness:Rightie or Leftie?

By: Ashley Glasser, MS, OTR/L, CEIM
  • Hand use typically follows a predictable pattern of development.
  • Most children have a hand preference by 3-4 years old and a hand dominance by 6 years old.
  • Don’t force a particular hand. Keep an eye out and gently encourage your child to use the hand they seem to be preferring.

Our hands – two of the most important tools we use to accomplish every day tasks. Dressing, brushing our teeth, eating, typing an email, or writing a note all require our hands (in combination with multiple other skills of course) to function well. We might use one hand or both hands together. We alter our grasp depending on the size of the object and the force needed. In short, our hands are incredibly sophisticated tools that have developed that complexity starting from an early age.

Hand skills tend to develop in a pretty orderly fashion. Babies progress from using their whole hand to pick up objects to being able to use a more precise fingertip grasp closer to the one-year mark. Just as grasp patterns develop over time, so does our hand dominance. Many parents become concerned when they notice their child using both hands to complete tasks. But rest assured, this is completely normal up until a certain age.

When children are infants it is expected that they use both sides of their body together. They will typically move both sides of their body in unison and reach for items with both hands at the same time. Eventually they start to reach with one hand as they learn that each side of their body can work separately from the other. However, it isn’t until a child is 3-4 years old that they typically start to demonstrate a stronger hand preference. Though they may still alternate which hand they use to complete fine motor tasks. By 6-years-old most children have established a hand dominance, though it may still be developing up until 8-years-old. So give them time! Place an object on the table in the middle of the child’s body and see which hand they reach with first to pick it up. Gently encourage a primary hand but don’t force it – it will come!

We do worry when a child’s development does not follow this typical pattern. Reach out to a therapist if your infant is only using one side of their body or if a child in elementary school is switching hands frequently without demonstrating any preference – such as several times in one task (remember, they may occasionally switch hands but they should be demonstrating at least a preference).

Fun fact: Did you know that 85-90% of people in Western countries are right-handed and 10-15% are left-handed?

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