Hand preference and dominance is a very misunderstood concept and it plays a vital role in functioning. Hand dominance can be defined as the tendency to prefer one hand over the other for skilled tasks such as writing, drawing and manipulating objects. This is influenced by genetic, neurological and environmental factors.
What is the process of development of hand dominance?
Initially children will use both hands for tasks. As they develop further and their fine-motor skills develop further then a child starts using their hands independently.
Generally, in children of 2-3 years old a child may start developing a preferred hand. This does not have to be significant or consistent but you may start seeing a slight preference such as eating mainly with the right hand. However, with this being said it is still extremely important that children use both hands for certain tasks and swap hands.
Hand dominance is typically well-established between 6-7 years old. However, it is important to see dominance starting to emerge between 4-6 years but this does not need to be well-established.
Research has shown that there is a strong genetic tie in hand dominance, however, this is not always the case. However environmental factors, cultural norms as well as exposure to activities may also influence dominance.
So how do I help my child develop dominance?
Initially: It is extremely important for a child to use both hands and therefore a child should not be encouraged to use just one hand in the early years. Using both hands is one of the first foundational elements from which bilateral integration develops. Games such as throwing, catching and rolling would encourage using both hands together.
When showing a preference: When a child starts to show a preference it is important not to label them completely as left or right handed. Encourage them to still explore if they feel the need. It is best to always present an item in the middle of their body, so that they can choose which hand they would like to use. Fine-motor activities such as using tongs are beneficial during this stage.
When dominance is starting to establish: When a child is showing more robust hand dominance it is very important to ensure that their hand continues to strengthen as well as that they are showing the ability to cross their midline. In-hand manipulation and hand strengthening games include playing with clay, manipulating small objects such as coins in their hand and also manipulating smaller tools such as tweezers.
What if my child is not showing the above:
- It is EXTREMELY important to never force hand dominance or using a specific hand. This has severe effects on a child later on in their school year.
- It is recommended that hand dominance is not starting to establish between 4 and 5 that you seek assistance from an Occupational Therapist.
Remember we all develop at our own times but it is extremely important that we follow the general process of development.
Written by Ashley Brecher (Jones), Bright Eyes Therapy.
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