Is Your Child a Lefty? That’s Okay!
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Development & Learning
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About 1 in 10 people are left-handed. But scissors, ATM machines, even ball point pens were all made with the other 90% of the population in mind. Left-handed play is disallowed in the sport of polo and also in field hockey, where it’s illegal to use a left-handed stick.
Left-handed people are definitely disadvantaged by their uniqueness. What would you do if your child seemed to be left-handed?
Preference for one hand over another for writing, eating and other skilled tasks emerges at about age 3 and becomes more firmly established by age 6 or 7. For some parents, the nuisance value of being left-handed is enough to worry them when their preschooler prefers to draw with her left hand. Other parents worry that being left-handed is an indicator of more serious trouble.
Researchers have tried to link mental illness to handedness but the results are so contradictory – with one study saying left-handers have more mental problems offset by another study saying they don’t – that no reliable conclusion can be drawn. Even if there is an effect, it appears to be very small.
Other research has attempted to link being left-handed with shorter lifespans, ADHD, dyslexia and a host of other difficulties, none of which connection is strong enough to lose sleep over. As one might expect, left-handers are just as smart as right-handers, scoring the same on IQ tests. They may be more likely to be creative – as you would be too if you had to figure out your own way to write and cut paper.
Most of the differences that have been ascribed to left-handed people down through the ages are simply the result of discrimination. As handedness researcher Clare Porac has said, “One of the issues … is the following notion: Everyone should be right-handed, and if not, there’s something wrong with the brain.” Other minorities have experienced similar treatment that sends the message, “you would be a better person if you were just like us.”
And that’s a message your own little child doesn’t need to hear.
Your child is perfect just the way he is. If he’s left-handed, then it’s the world’s fault that it’s set up to favor righties, not his. Don’t try to change his hand preference. Instead, make his life easier.
Stand up for your child if her teacher insists she write right-handedly. Show your child how to orient her paper and hold her pencil so writing is easier (it will still be hard, since her writing hand must push ahead to go left-to-right, not pull the pencil). If she insists on writing from over the top of her paper, let her.
Seek out left-handed scissors, left-handed can openers, left-handed everything. There are whole catalogs of left-handed stuff. Keep in mind, though, your child will have to cope with many things that aren’t adapted. He’ll figure it out.
If your child prefers his left hand for some things and his right hand for other things, that’s okay. Don’t pressure him to figure it out. He doesn’t have to fit into one box or the other.
Many admirable people are or were left-handed, including eight of the country’s 44 Presidents (a ratio of nearly 1 in 5, much higher than lefties in the general population). The list of left-handed artists, actors, political leaders, and innovators runs very long – about a tenth of the population, in fact!
Is your child going to be left-handed? That would be lovely.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.