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How To Identify A Left-Handed Child

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Emanuella Correia knew there was something different about her daughter, yet wasn’t able to immediately identify what it was. “When my daughter was very young, she was facing a lot of difficulties. She was four-and-a-half years old. She couldn’t color properly. Everything would go out of the circle, out of the drawing. She was not yet learning to write her letters, but she would form them differently. When I saw it, I knew she was not at the same development range as the other children.”

“I was horrified that I, as a mother, hadn’t realized my daughter was left handed”

One of Ms. Correia's mentors suggested her daughter be assessed by an expert, which helped identify her daughter as being left handed. “I was horrified in the sense that I, as a mother, hadn’t realized that my daughter was left handed,” says Ms. Correia.

“The interesting thing is since she was two until she was four-and-a-half years old, she never learned to eat soup with a spoon; she would bring her mouth to the plate. After we found out she was left handed, I (asked her to try) the other hand. For the first time, she brought the spoon, naturally like a princess, to her mouth. How come I never realized this? I was horrified with myself. How come I would give things to her in the right hand. So, she understood in her mind if I'm giving her this spoon in her right hand, she was supposed to eat with the right hand. And when she was doing this she was finding an enormous challenge and it was horrible for her and I never realized.”

Ms. Correia's daughter coloring with her dominant left hand.
Ms. Correia's daughter coloring with ease (Photo Courtesy: Emanuella Correia)

It’s not always easy to know which hand is dominant for young children, especially if you are not aware of the signs you should look for when trying to identify a left-handed child. It’s important to remember that just because you are right-handed, doesn’t mean your child will be as well. The odds are low; however studies show that if neither parent is left-handed, a child still has a 9 to 11 percent chance of being a lefty.

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National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Assistant Professor Dr. Marietta Papadatou-Pastou says a child’s laterality is solidified “somewhere between three and seven years of age. I realize this is quite a big range, but we (scientists) cannot give a more specific age.”

Typically, your child will experiment with both hands as a toddler before determining their dominant hand. Ms. Correia says, “It varies a lot from child to child. Some children will show this from a very young age. So, you’re going to see them doing everything already with their left hand. You’re going to see some babies doing this even in the ultrasound. But, there is this study which says many children will experiment with both hands during different ages.”

Mark and Heather Stewart started a company in Worcester, England to help left-handed children, with a focus on writing. Their son is a strong left hander being left-eye dominant, left-handed and left-footed! Mrs. Stewart says, “With some children, particularly if they really have a big dominance of one hand over the other, you can tell early. From about 18 months we knew he was going to be left handed. Although when we took him to the doctors and mentioned it, they said, ‘Oh no, far too early,’ but actually we knew. And a lot of parents say, ‘Oh I knew he was going to be left handed.’ But there are others who say, ‘I can't tell. How do you tell if they’re going to be left handed or not because sometimes he uses his left hand, sometimes he uses his right.’ And really those are the children who are somewhere in the middle and you have to wait patiently with those children and see how things develop.”

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Parents should look for clues and consistency in their children’s movement patterns. Below is a chart with 15 simple clues to help you identify your child’s dominant hand, including which hand they use when eating with a spoon, which hand they hold a crayon or pencil with, and the hand they use most often when picking up food with their fingers. Having your toddler throw a ball to you is an effective activity that helps determine handedness. If your child uses both hands when throwing, parents should look at which arm consistently throws with the most accuracy and velocity (speed of the throw). They are young, so not every throw will be on target and they won’t be throwing the ball very hard; however at about 3-5 years of age, your child’s throws from their right and left hand should be quite distinguishable.

15 simple exercises to help identify your child’s dominant hand. #1: writing, #2: throwing a ball, #3: eating with a spoon or chopsticks, #4: brushing teeth, #5: unscrewing the lid of a jar, #6: picking up finger food, #7: pointing at something, #8: coloring, #9: swinging a golf club, baseball and cricket bat, tennis racket, etc, #10: picking up toys, #11: stirring liquid, #12: cutting with scissors, #13: playing a guitar, #14: scooping sand into a bucket, #15: tying shoelaces.
15 Simple Exercises To Help Identify Your Child’s Dominant Hand (Image designed with Canva)

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Mr. Stewart says parents and teachers should use their own observational skills and say, “OK, they tend to do things with their left hand---fine motor skills like coloring---and they seem to prefer using scissors in the left hand. That gives you a pretty good idea. It's about using a bit of common sense and observation.”

Mrs. Stewart says, “I think personally we've kind of modified our view of left handers because we think left handedness is a black-and-white issue---you're either left handed or right handed. But, we now know that's not actually a true picture at all and we say to people there's a line and the people on one side (are) left handers (and) the other side you've got the right handers. But in the middle, there are people who can use both hands equally and we're all somewhere along that line.”

A graph illustrating the approximate percentages a person needs to perform with their left and right hands to be considered left dominant, mixed-left dominant, mixed dominant, mixed-right dominant or right dominant.
Where do you land on this Laterality Continuum? (Graphic designed with Canva)

The leg your toddler uses to kick a ball may also provide clues for their handedness. A 2016 study (Tran and Voracek) tested 1,026 left handers to compare the relation between handedness and footedness. Of all the participants, 59 percent preferred the left foot, 24 percent were mixed-footed and 17 percent were right-footed. Although it was a relatively small sample size, it suggests there is some correlation with left-handedness and left-footedness. However, you can’t classify your child as a left hander solely off which foot they prefer. The activities they perform with their hands will give you a better idea of how strong their handedness may be.

Ms. Correia decided to start a company in Brazil after she discovered her daughter was left handed. She focuses on left-hand education so she could share her experience and knowledge she has gained. “Some close friends would say, ‘You were so attentive, you were a very attentive mom. How did this happen?’ And what happened is that I didn't have the information. This is why it's so important for us to be aware. I'm learning from my daughter, from my students, from the parents, from teachers, to put myself in their shoes to understand what's going on with them and how I can be of their assistance. And so this is when I also decided that I wouldn't keep this information to myself; if it changes my life it could change the life of others.”

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