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Hand Dominance Development in Children

Hand Dominance Development in Children

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Child development involves many phases, among which hand dominance is an important developmental milestone. Children use both of their hands equally when they are unaware of hand dominance. They may decide which hand to use randomly. As they grow, they learn which hand to use. It is a natural feature; some people are left-handed, some are right-handed, and some use both hands equally. However, teachers or parents teach the use of right and left hands for various activities.


What is Hand Dominance?


Hand dominance refers to knowing which hand to use in what situations. The brain decides it, and the person uses the hands accordingly. Hand domination is essential because a child, during the development stage, must know which hand to use for what purpose. Hand domination is a need for all day while holding an object, brushing teeth, cutting and writing, etc. Knowing which hand to use makes a child do the task skillfully and efficiently.


The brain manages and controls hand dominance. It is contralateral, which means the brain’s right hemisphere manages the left hand, and the left hemisphere manages the right hand. 90% of the world’s population is right-handed. Direction indicates the left or right-handedness of a child, while a degree is an extent to which a person prefers using one hand over the other. Hand dominance is typically of four types;


The most common one is right-handedness; using their right hand to do most of their work is what right-handed individuals do. They mainly use their right hand for activities like eating, writing, holding objects, using tools like scissors, opening bottles, etc. The majority of the population in the world is right-handed, and they find it difficult to do things using their left hand. They use their left hand to support objects while their right hand is at work.


Left-handed individuals use their left hand to do most of the chores. It is easier for them to use their left hand while performing tasks with their right hand becomes problematic for them. Left-handed individuals are rare compared to right-handed. They find it hard to use tools designed for right-handed people, for example, a chair with a right-hand desk.


Children can also be mixed-handed. It is also known as cross-dominance. A mixed-handed individual finds it easy to use the right hand for some tasks and the left for others. It is possible that a mixed-handed person uses their right hand for eating and left for throwing or catching a ball. It is a rare population. You’ll find left-handed individuals easily as compared to mixed handed.


Last is ambidextrous, involving 1% population, which can use their left and right hand with ease and skill. ‘Ambidextrous’ is the term for these people. These are different from mixed-handed because they find it easy to do any task and hand, unlike mixed-handed, who can only do specific tasks with their right or left hand.


Typical Hand Dominance Development In Children


Among children, hand preference establishes when they grow. Between the ages of 2-4 years, they start preferring one hand over the other. However, they may still swap hands at this age and fully establish hand dominance at the age of 4 to 6. It means hand dominance comes with age, and a child takes time to decide if his left hand is dominant or right. At first, using a specific hand comes naturally. It is up to the child and his brain. However, for routine activities like brushing teeth, eating, writing, etc., a parent or a teacher helps the child.


When a child uses one hand to do a task, the other supports it. For instance, if the child writes with the right hand, the left hand holds the paper. It is what hand dominance or hand preference is about. Moreover, this is how a child learns which hand to use for what purpose. A child can do a task efficiently and effectively when he knows which hand to use. They may spill the food if they carry the spoon with their left hand.


A dominant hand is essential to refining fine and gross motor skills. Children who keep swapping their hands for daily tasks face building precision and strength issues. It becomes more visible in handwriting and routine fine motor tasks like opening jars and zipping. It is, therefore, necessary to pay attention to developing hand dominance at the right age.


A child must know the meaning of a dominant hand. Parents should identify if their child’s dominant hand is left or right. They should then explain to them how they should eat, right, and do other stuff. Once a child knows which hand to use for what, he will eventually become able to judge and decide for himself. A child keeps busy doing activities like playing with toys, writing, drawing, and much more.


As the child grows, he becomes comfortable using any one hand for most activities. It is natural, but if a child fails to decide, tell the child to do certain things with his right hand and others with his left. If parents wish their children to be a lefty, ask them to carry a pencil in their left hand. In that case, if the child is right-handed by nature, he will fail to write.


When kids start writing at school, their teachers or parents may observe no hand dominance yet. If at the school age, you feel like your child still has no hand preference, you may consider letting them use both hands. You may also observe which hand they use more or make them do bilateral tasks. Eventually, your child will develop hand domination.


Other Factors That Affect Handedness


One factor that affects a child’s handedness is the parental environment. Some parents prefer that their children’s right hand should be dominant. They train their children accordingly. For others, the natural handedness of the child is acceptable, and they do not try to change that. They only observe if their child is using their left or right hand more, encouraging them to continue with that. Some parents may find it odd if their child is a lefty. At the same time, others will not care as long as their child can do routine stuff easily.


Another factor can be culture and its impact. In some cultures, they prefer eating and writing with the right hand. So children try to use their right hand to eat even if they are uncomfortable using it. You can see it in Asian culture a lot. On the other hand, left or right-handedness does not matter in other cultures. Hence, cultures play a role in hand domination to an extent. However, there are still lefties in Asian culture as well.


Last is genetics. A child may be a lefty if his parents or a parent is a lefty. Previously, people used to consider genes an important factor in deciding handedness. However, research on 25,000 Australian and Dutch families showed that it is not very influential. Genes influenced only 25% of the individuals’ handedness, while the other 75% were affected by environmental factors.


It indicates that the other factors that affect hand domination are parental environment and cultural impact. Genetics can also affect the handedness of a child. Hence, the most effective factor for hand domination is parental environment and cultural influence. Genetics is less effective. However, children from left-handed parents are likelier to be left-handed than those from right-handed parents.


Children Who Struggle With Hand Dominance


Normally, by age 6, a child should have established which hand he is consistently using and is comfortable with. It can be left or right. However, if he is still facing issues with hand dominance, you need to follow some strategies. A child who struggles with hand dominance needs support and guidance from parents and teachers. It will make him follow the right strategies and activities to get better. Below are a few strategies to use for children struggling with hand domination;




Look and observe their hands. See which hand they use the most while playing and picking up objects. Parents may be curious to jump in and help their children. However, before that, it is important to sit back and see which hand they are using more naturally. It is also worth noting whether they keep swapping hands or use the same hand from start to end. Observe if they use the same hand for a specific activity every time or do they change their hand.


Place objects at midline, not right or left


Place toys and items at the child’s midline rather than left or right. If the item is on the left, the child will find it easier to use the left hand to pick up the toy. In that case, he will make a biased decision. However, if the toy is at the midline, there will be no bias, and the child will use his preferred hand to pick up the toy. It is how you will determine which of his hands is dominant.


Do not force the child to use any specific hand, right or left


Make the child feel free to use any hand he wants. It’s his preference. Do not force the child to use a specific hand to do any activity like writing or eating. In that case, they would not be able to do activities naturally. The natural handedness of children makes them efficient and effective. It is always better to encourage them on what they have naturally rather than trying to change it.


Bilateral Coordination Skills


For stronger hand dominance, bilateral coordination is effective. It means using both hands at once and knowing which hand is doing the task dominantly and which one is supporting it. It makes a child able to pick a dominant side to master the skill and the other side able to support. They need these skills for writing tasks, scissor tasks, and gross motor skills like holding a cup and catching a ball.


Hand Strengthening Activities


Hand strength can be of two types; grip strength and pinch strength. Grip strength is the strength of the entire hand, while pinch is the strength of the fingers. A child gets into activities like rolling, kneading, squeezing, building blocks, popping bubble wrap, using tongs and tweezers, and climbing. These activities help children strengthen their hands to work for hand domination.




Hand domination or hand preference means doing most activities with either right or left hand. The hand that a child uses for most activities is the dominant hand. 90% of the population around the world is right-handed. Then there are left-handed people, mixed-handed and ambidextrous. A child gets into hand dominance between the ages of 2-4, while by age 6, he establishes his dominant or preferred hand.


There are a few factors that affect hand dominance, such as genes, parental environment, and cultural factors. However, genes are the least influential factor. Children may struggle with hand dominance. They might take a long to develop hand dominance. In that case, you must allow your children to do hand-strengthening activities to develop hand dominance.

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