Righty Tighty, Lefty Mighty


What is Hand Dominance? 

Children should be able to use both hands in play. However, as tasks become increasingly complex, almost all children develop one hand that they use automatically to act on other objects. Hand dominance is not a preference, but a developmental process that allows the brain to advance their skills. 

When and How Does Hand Dominance Develop? 

Hand dominance develops naturally in children who are progressing through their gross motor and fine motor milestones, and is correlated with developing bilateral coordination skills. 

Bilateral Coordination Stages: 

  • Using two hands to do the same motion simultaneously and symmetrically (pushing with two hands) 
  • Using two hands to do the opposite motion simultaneously and symmetrically (pulling apart toys) 
  • Using one hand to stabilize, one hand to act on an object (one hand holding a cup, other hand putting blocks in the cup) 
  • Using two hands to do the opposite motion simultaneously and asymmetrically (zipping a coat, tearing paper) 

In infancy and toddlerhood, children use either or both hands to reach, point/poke, push, pull, and twist toys. In their first exposures with using art and feeding utensils, it is expected for children to switch which hand they use each time they pick up a new item as they are learning to control utensils how to adjust their grasp to make marks on paper and feed themselves. As children use their hands together more, their brain devotes increased resources for fine motor coordination to one side than the other. Children having a strong preference in infancy and toddlerhood and using one arm or hand significantly may require an evaluation for weakness, as differences at young age should not be very noticeable. We cannot encourage children to have one hand dominance rather than the other, and have to allow the hand dominance to emerge naturally by age four to five, and is solidified through practice in the following years. The world is designed to favor right handed people, so left handed children may need accommodations in order to help the child learn how to write in a way that is efficient and allows the child to see their work. Young children should not be encouraged to use their right hand only if they are switching. 

How Can I Tell If My Child Has a Hand Dominance? 

You can observe a few different ways that your child may display their hand dominance. Some of the following are ways to see which hand your child naturally uses more in play and daily living skills. The following are examples of situations in which the hand that grasps the object first may be more dominant than the other. 

  • When an eating or coloring utensil is placed vertically in the middle of two hands
  • When a child throws a small tennis ball or wiffle ball 
  • When brushing their teeth 
  • When opening twist top containers or water bottles (the non-dominant hand should automatically stabilize) 

Questions or concerns? 

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s hand dominance or bilateral coordination skills, please contact us  at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Caroline Stevens, MS, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist


Reference: Erhardt, Rhoda. (2012). Hand preference: Theory, assessment and implications of function. First Printing.

Photo Credit: Matthew Henry via burst.shopify.com