Kids develop hand skills through play as they discover what they can do with their hands in their environment. Hand dominance occurs naturally through this discovery and play. You may have heard the terms Cross–dominance or hand confusion in a therapy report. This mixed dominance may present in a child’s motor actions when they favors one hand for some tasks and the other hand for others. Hand dominance and establishment of a preferred hand in activities refines motor skills and allows for more skilled movements.
But what happens when those two-handed activities do not transition to preferred use of one hand over the other? At a certain point, kids begin to show hand dominance in functional tasks as their motor skills develop. A child begins to show laterality of their hands in functional tasks as one side of their brain gains dominance and allows the child to prefer use of one hand over the other. Other kids show a mixed dominance and use both of their hands in activities. Wondering where to begin or how to know what is typical in development? Read on!
Development of Hand Dominance
Kids switching hands in an activity? Maybe you are seeing a child use one hand for some activities and their other hand for other activities. Still other children may use both hands interchangeably. Development of hand dominance can be established at different rates.
True hand dominance can develop as late as 8 or 9 years of age, but typically children begin to demonstrate preferred use of one hand over the other at 2.5 to 3 years.
Sometimes, however, kids switch hands. They might use one hand for some tasks, and the other for other tasks. They might equally use hands in activities like handwriting, scissor skills, brushing teeth, or swinging a bat.
Why does this mixed dominance occur and why is it important for kids to establish a preferred hand?
Why is hand dominance important?
Hand preference has been associated with various difficulties. When using an established hand in activities is a problem (or kids swap hands), there can be other issues occuring. These may include trouble with bilateral coordination, using both hands together at the midline, and crossing midline.
Other concerns related to using both hands interchangeably can include:
Fine Motor Skills- Think about it this way: when a child cuts with scissors, they use one hand to hold the paper and the other hand to manipulate and move the scissors. As they develop in this skill, they are able to cut paper and shapes with more precision. They can cut progressively more detailed and more complex shapes. The child that switches hands when cutting with scissors may struggle to progress with refine and precise motor actions.
Similarly, the nondominant hand becomes more reliable in its ability to be a stable and sturdy assist in tasks like cutting with scissors, holding a ruler, or writing with a pencil.
Mixed handedness can impact handwriting too. In the same manner, any functional task can be impacted by mixed dominance.
What is Laterality?
Lateralization refers to the brain’s ability to control the two sides of the body. Each hemisphere of the brain controls different tasks and functions. When a child shows difficulties with laterality, they might switch objects between the two hands in functional tasks. As a child grows, they are challenged to become more efficient with tools in school.
3 Quick Tips to improve hand dominance
These are easy ways to work on hand dominance in kids who switch hands during tool use. They might have trouble identifying left or right on themselves, which makes direction following difficult. Try these activities to work on hand dominance:
1. Play the “Show Me” game– Ask the child to “show me how you brush your hair.” The child can demonstrate with an imaginary brush how they would brush their hair. By using imaginary brush, the child does not have to worry about picking up the tool. They will automatically brush without thinking about it. As the child pretends to brush their hair, the adult can point out which hand they are using. Putting a name to the hand alerts the child to which hand they are using. You can then use this information to help the child remember which hand they use in functional tasks. (“Hold the pencil with the hand you brush your hair with.”)
Continue this game with other “Show Me” tasks:
- Show me how you brush your teeth.
- Show me how you hold a pencil.
- Show me how you paint a picture.
- Show me how you hold scissors.
2. Play Simon Says– Encourage a lot of handedness activities during the game:
- Simon Says put your right hand in your pocket.
- Simon Says scratch your leg with your left hand.
- Simon Says stomp your right leg.
- Simon Says take two steps to the left.
When playing, you can add a rubber band to the child’s right hand. Tell them and show them that the rubber band is on their RIGHT hand. After playing with successful lateralization, remove the rubber band.
3. Using masking tape, create floor maps. Make a large square shape on the floor and as the child walks through the maze, have the child stop at the corners and tell you if they have to turn right or left.
Continue practicing these games and activities with less verbal and visual prompts. Let me know if you try these ideas at home.
More ways to practice hand dominance with kids: