Hand Dominance in Functional Activities – 3 Simple Tips
Kids and messy hands.
When a baby is born, you can look at those sweet little wrinkly fingers as they are clenched around their mama’s pinkie finger and just imagine all of the messes those fingers are going to create. There are many years ahead of sticky fingerprints, messy toy rooms, and spilled drinks.
Then that sweet little baby becomes an adorable Toddler who’s got his hands in everything: pulling the toilet paper from the roll, dumping cereal boxes, and pulling folded clothes out of drawers.
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.
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.
Hand Dominance in Kids
True hand dominance can occur 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.
Laterality: What is it?
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 challenge laterality and work on an established 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.
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