The Importance of Hand Dominance

With which hand do you write? With which hand do you hold a baseball glove? With which hand do you comb your hair? Hand dominance is established when either the right or left hemisphere of your brain becomes the dominant or ‘leader’ side. painted handsThis aids us as humans in determining how we will proceed to perform functional tasks, such as choosing which hand we use to throw a ball, brush our teeth, or hold a cup. Hand dominance should be established by the age of five in order for a child to function at his/her most efficient level with handwriting tasks, activities of daily living (ADLs), and overall coordination tasks.

The Importance of Developing a Dominant Hand:

Additionally, it is important for a child to develop a dominant hand so that he/she can learn how to efficiently perform tasks involving midline crossing and bilateral integration skills; one hand needs to act as a helper to the dominant hand. For example, when cutting a piece of paper, one hand must hold the paper while the other hand cuts with scissors. Overall, in order to develop skillful and proficient hand dexterity, coordination, and fine motor control, hand dominance needs to be established.

Here are some activities that parents can have their children do at home to help promote hand dominance:

Bilateral Coordination tasks:

  1. Push a toy car around a track; hold the car with one hand and the track with the other hand.
  2. Screw lids on and off jars or bottles, or assemble nuts and bolts.
  3. Thread beads on a string or use lacing cards with yarn or shoe laces.
  4. Use tracing paper or even color on small pieces of paper; the non-dominant hand is to stabilize the paper so that it doesn’t move.
  5. Play with play-dough and cut it into pieces with scissors.

Activities involving One Side of Your Body:

  1. Play ‘Keep It Up’ with a balloon: keep a balloon off the ground by hitting it up with only one hand.
  2. Play tennis with an age appropriate tennis racquet.
  3. Play darts, throwing with the dominant hand.
  4. Coin flipping: vertically line up a row of coins, and have the child flip the coins to the other side.

Midline Crossing tasks:

  1. Play with sand, scooping it from one side of your body and crossing over to pour it onto the other side.
  2. Play Twister, Hokey Pokey, or Simon Says.
  3. Play sorting games (i.e. card games).
  4. Make ‘figure 8’s’ in the sand, on a dry erase board, or with streamers

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Morgan Lawless

Morgan Lawless OTR/L graduated from West Virginia University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts, Human Performance and Health and a Master of Occupational Therapy. Morgan is an experienced occupational therapist, having worked in an inpatient rehabilitation hospital in West Virginia. There she was the lead occupational therapist for the pediatric and spinal cord teams, co-leader of the spinal cord team, and an involved wellness program committee member within the hospital, serving as the Zumba instructor. Morgan’s experience with pediatrics first began during a fieldwork assignment as an OT student. Her experience in a Tennessee outpatient facility inspired her desire to someday work permanently with the pediatric population. Learning to love the families, children, and treatment methods were stimulating and exciting. As the children progressed, quality of lives improved and lives were changed. As a professional, Morgan has continued to value her experience with treating the pediatric population, which has allowed her to work and play with sensory integration, including aquatic sensory integration treatments, as well as treat many neurological and orthopedic diagnoses. Her certifications in using functional electrical stimulation, including the RT300, and Saebo have greatly enhanced her experiences in treating neurological populations.

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9 replies
  1. Rae says:

    Thanks for your article on hand dominance. How important is it for parents of younger toddler/babies to offer objects to the child on the midline so as not to intefere with a child’s natural dominance as it develops

    Reply
    • Morgan says:

      Great question, Rae! As stated above, hand dominance should have developed by 5 years of age. However, toddlers and babies are still at the developmental stage of playing at midline and discovering how to use one hand or use both hands together. Once a child reaches the age of three or four, begin laying an object down at midline and observe which hand they most commonly use to reach for the object. By no means ‘force’ or influence a dominant side, but rather allow the child to develop the skill on their own. Thank you for your question!

      Reply
  2. Cbest4me says:

    I see many children whose parents brag that their children are ambidexterous when in realitly they have no dominance and no DEXTERITY! This is a very good explaination of why hand dominance is important.

    Reply
  3. MattieJack says:

    My son does not appear to have a dominant hand. He is 4 months shy of his 5th birthday. He seems to be using his left more often when writing but can just as equally use his right when asked. He crosses the midline with both hands. I want him to naturally pick a dominant hand but don’t know when to push one hand or another. We don’t know how to teach him to throw the ball, practice fine motor skills when writing, etc. Luckily since his birthday falls in September he will have another year to figure it out before entering kindergarten. Any advice? I’m happy to work with him on these skills listed above but what hand do I practice them with? He prefers to throw a ball with his right but will throw with his left if prompted.

    Reply
  4. Deann says:

    I understand that focus on a dominant hand could lead to quicker mastery of skills, reduce the need to take time to make a choice in each situation, and cross the mid-line more frequently with focus on one dominant hand. But wouldn’t it be more advantageous to take the extra time to develop ambidexterity, for greater flexibility of hand choice, depending on the situation? (I’m thinking of martial arts, or avoidance of repetitive strain injuries, or using the brain’s plasticity to adapt to loss of a hand, for example). Maybe there’s another reason that children favor one hand, such as the left-sided location of language centers of the brain, resulting in a cultural advantage of right-handed writing? I’d be interested in knowing more about history of hand dominance, including prehistoric and cross-cultural findings.

    Reply
    • Lindsey Moyer says:

      Interesting question, Deann! While it may seem like working to develop ambidexterity would be preferable in order to help a child master skills on both sides of the body and avoid repetitive strain injuries from writing, the brain is constantly attempting to prune it’s neural connections to identify the most efficient method of completing a task. Working to develop ambidexterity may be counterintuitive for this pruning process where the body strives to organize and pin-point specific areas in the brain that will specialize in each individual task. Determining which hemisphere of the brain will specialize in each task is a process called laterality. “Assigning” specific places in the brain to specialize in each individual task also helps children develop their body awareness. That being said, for various unfortunate reasons (ie. loss of a hand, broken arm, or stroke) sometimes it is necessary to “switch” the tasks of writing to the other side of the body. While the brain is wired so that it chooses the most efficient means to complete a task fortunately, it continues to have some level of plasticity or ability to adapt and refine skills on the non-dominant side for these situations.

      I hope it helps!
      Lindsey

      Reply
  5. Val says:

    My son is 4 and will be 5 in August. He used to do most drawing and coloring with his left hand. Then when he started writing letters he switched to his right hand. I did not encourage him either way. He still cuts with sissors with his left hand. Is this unusual ? Is it unusual for a right handed person to do other things with his left hand?

    Reply
    • Mary Kate Mulry says:

      Great question! Some children do not develop hand dominance until the age of 6, therefore it is still considered age appropriate for your son to switch between the two. I recommend presenting writing utensils and scissors in his midline (the center of the table). I would then record which hand he initiates to grasp them. If your son goes to school, I would also check in with his teacher to see if she notices a trend. In addition, I would evaluate the quality of movement as well as the pencil grasp and scissor grasp. Does one side look smoother than the other? That could be a good clue.

      Generally speaking, children will eventually grow to prefer one hand for their fine motor skills, so it sounds like your son is still testing out which one seems more comfortable. As always, if you feel like it’s a concern I recommend seeking out an OT evaluation. OTs can be very helpful in determining when fine motor skills can be strengthened through therapy.

      Thank you,

      Mary Kate Mulry
      Marym@nspt4kids.com

      Reply

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