Hand dominance is needed for different tasks throughout the day, whether it is our writing, holding an object, cutting, and also brushing teeth.
Having a consistent hand preference or an established hand dominance is important as it allows us to do tasks more efficiently and skillfully.
Among the majority of kids, hand preference develops during their growth. Typically you can see a child preferring one hand around the ages 2-4 years old. However, at this age, they may still swap between the two hands. Hand dominance is often not fully established until 4-6 years old.
Definition of Hand Dominance
Hand preference involves using and favoring one hand consistently over another to do the majority of daily work.
A child’s hand preference for using one hand over the other helps to execute a fine and gross motor task. This is inclusive of activities like holding a pencil or toy, writing, throwing and catching a ball, pushing or pulling objects, cutting, and so on.
Using a preferred hand while writing, picking up objects, throwing a ball, etc. This preferred hand is termed as “dominant hand”.
Typically the other hand is required to support the items e.g. hold down the paper or the object. This hand is termed as the “helping hand”.
The entire phenomenon is known as “Hand Dominance” or having a “Hand Preference”.
At this stage, children can be identified as either right-handed or left-handed. However, some children may even be comfortable using both hands or either hand for particular tasks. This makes the person ambidextrous or mixed-handed.
Classification of Hand Dominance
Hand dominance can be of mainly four types:
People who consider using their right hand for performing most of the tasks are termed righties or right-handed. They prefer to use their right hand for eating, writing, opening cans, holding a notebook, or accessing common tools like scissors.
People with right-hand dominance account for the majority at about 90% of the population (Price, 2009).
People with the dominance of the left hand are considered as left-handed, left-handers, or lefties. They are usually comfortable performing most of the tasks with their left hand.
Often, it becomes problematic to perform certain tasks for lefties with tools that are designed for right-handed persons.
Mixed-handedness or cross-dominance is where a person favors one hand for some tasks while they favor the other hand for other tasks both their hands for different tasks.
For instance, a child with cross-dominance may eat with their right hand and catch a ball using their left.
As little as 1% of the total population is able to use their left and right hand with equal ease for skillfully performing a task. These people are considered to be ambidextrous or ambis.
Importance of Developing A Dominant Hand
Developing a dominant hand is an important part of improving fine and gross motor skills.
Kids who continue to swap their hands to do daily chores tend to face difficulties in building strength and precision. This is particularly evident during handwriting tasks and daily fine motor tasks like doing up zippers and opening containers. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to developing hand dominance at the right age.
Right Age to Develop Hand Dominance
In most cases, hand preference development occurs between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. Although hand preference begins at this age, a consistent preference may not be observed until the age of 4 to 6 years.
When kids start writing at school, they may be observed as not having hand dominance yet. If your child is at school age and has not yet established a hand preference, it is important to consider some of the activities below.
Although we do not want to push our children into establishing a certain hand preference, we would like them to start developing skillful movements and strength in a certain hand.
How to Guide Children on Developing Hand Dominance
- Let them use both hands: It is important to lessen the precedence of using the dominant and non-dominant hand for a while and allow children to freely use both hands.
- Practice bilateral tasks: Encourage your child to use both hands during bilateral tasks. For example, opening containers, scribbling, putting on clothes, doing up zippers etc.
- Give opportunities: Arrange a number of daily opportunities for your child to help develop their hand dominance. Performing in regular activities greatly helps children to advance their hand skills. It enables them to have a clear idea of which hand they prefer to use most of the time.
- Present objects in their midline: When giving them an object, rather than passing it to them from the side of their body, place the object directly in front of them (i.e. their midline). This allows the child to choose to pick up the object naturally with their preferred hand. When you present the object to them from the side, then younger children who have not yet established a hand preference may choose to use the hand closest to the object.
- Observe which hand they use: Observe which hand your child is preferring the most to perform tasks. If they use either the right or left hand mostly and with ease, it’s the dominant hand for them.
- Develop hand dominance and skill in the preferred hand: When you identify your child’s preference for one hand, it’s time to pay attention to developing the dominant and assisting roles for both hands.
Activities to Improve Hand Dominance
Here are some activities to help your child improve their hand preference.
Bilateral Coordination Games
- Pushing a toy train around the track: Holding the train with one hand and the track with the other
- Opening the lid or closing the jar or a bottle
- Assembling nut-bolts
- Writing on a paper: Holding the paper to set it firmly with one hand and using the other to hold the pencil and write; coloring something on paper with a crayon can be done in a similar way
- Activities using play dough: Holding a piece of dough with one hand and cutting it into pieces with a scissor held by the other
Crossing Midline Games
- Games like Hokey Pokey, Simon Says or Twister
- Play with sand and create “figure 8” in the sand
- Sitting on the sand and scooping sand from one side of the body and putting it onto the other side
- Sorting games like card games
- Construction play: Moving blocks from one side of the body to the other side of the body
Activities Using One Side of Your Body
- Children can play tennis with the right racket considering their age.
- The game called “Keep It Up” is very useful: Here, balloons are placed on the ground and one has to hit them up using only one hand.
- Play the game called “Flip a coin”.
- Play darts: Use your dominant hand to throw it.
Role of the Other Hand
Although we have focused on the importance of developing hand dominance, the use of the non-dominant hand plays an essential role in developing hand skills.
Most of the tasks include the involvement of both hands for completion. The simultaneous involvement of the right and left hands helps to improve efficiency.
To perform precision tasks, the activity of the dominant hand, along with the coordination of the non-dominant hand, can result in higher accuracy and efficiency.
Therefore hand dominance and the use of the helper’s hand are crucial in developing fine motor skills.
- While cutting paper into pieces, kids tend to hold the scissors with their dominant hand while the other hand helps by holding the paper. Therefore, the non-dominant hand plays a crucial role to improve hand skills. The non-dominant hand also keeps the paper in place when a child writes on it or practices handwriting.
- It is the non-dominant hand that supports the ruler while the dominant hand holds the writing utensils to draw a line.
- When opening a container, the dominance hand focuses on turning the lid while the helper hand holds onto the jar or container.
Essentially, both hands are equally required to perform together mainly. One hand is focusing on mastering the tool use, and the other one is available for assistance. It can be very difficult to complete tasks without the skill of both hands in their required roles.
The support from the non-dominant hand is very much demanding for achieving good control and strength. Thus, the assistance of a non-dominant hand is much required as it plays a vital role in hand skills.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between ambidextrous and mixed-handedness?
Although these terms may be used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between being ambidextrous and mixed-handedness.
Ambidextrous is where one person is equally skilled in the use of both hands. This means they are able to complete tasks with their left and right hands with the same competence.
However, mixed-handedness is when the person is able to use one hand skillfully for one task and the opposite hand skillfully for another task. They are not skillful in both hands for the same task.
Can I change my child’s hand dominance?
The dominance of a hand is not really a choice that an individual makes as a child. It is more of a child’s brain play and not a conscious decision per se. Genetics and other factors play a role in determining the dominant hand and the helping hand.
In this context, parents need to be aware of the impact of forcibly switching their child’s dominant hands. Hand dominance is quite natural and there is nothing for parents to worry about if the dominant hand of their little one is at odds with the majority of the population.
Still, in case there are concerns, it is a good idea to consult the child’s teachers, doctors or an Occupational Therapist.
The development of fine motor skills starts with the development of hand dominance.
Although most children do not establish hand dominance until they are between the ages of 4 and 6, it is important for parents and educators to understand how to support children in developing their skills.
It is also important for children to choose their own hand preference. Although left-handedness is in the minority of the population, if you have left-handed children, it is important to support them in their left-hand preference and provide suitable tools for them so they can develop their skills.
Statistics of Hand Dominance Across the World
There is a right-handed majority across the globe, with some studies suggesting between 70-95% of the population have a preference for their right hand (Mwaniki, 2018).
There are about 10-12% of the population who are left-handed and about 1% of the population are ambidextrous (Mwaniki, 2018).
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