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Your Child Today: 8 to 11 years

A Left-Handed Child in a Right-Handed World

My 8-year-old, Aimee, struggling with a can opener, cried out in exasperation, "What's wrong with this thing?" Her brother scoffed: "Something must be wrong with you if you can't use something that simple." Although I discouraged his teasing, I too was baffled. Why couldn't she get it?

Finally it hit me. Ever since Aimee was 1, I've known she was (and still is) left-handed. What I didn't realize was how much our world is right-side oriented.

Children usually begin to demonstrate a preference for one hand by age 3, although some may not fully establish dominance until age 8 or 9. One in every nine children will be left-side dominant. It's at this age that children first begin to experience frustration with a "handedness" that gets in the way of daily life.

If you're a right-handed parent with a left-handed child, try using a camera, assuming your left eye and hand are dominant. Lay your left arm across a three-ring binder (ouch!) to write. Use colored markers with your left hand?without smearing ink across your palm or sleeve. I tried using that can opener with my left hand and felt inept, frustrated and klutzy. Experiencing the world as your child does can go a long way toward understanding the way she feels on a daily basis.

To help a lefty in your life, try these tips:

Inform yourself via the Internet or through books such as Stanley Coren's The Left-Hander Syndrome (Random House). Considering that left-handers have been found to be more accident- and allergy-prone, these resources are a great source of health and safety advice you may not have thought of.

Consider handedness when teaching your child new tasks. Hand sewing is much easier when a lefty can stitch in the opposite direction. Try facing your child to teach a project instead of sitting alongside, to provide a mirror image your child can copy.

Inform others who work closely with your child of his hand dominance. It may go unnoticed unless he complains. Seating a left-handed child close to the right of a right-handed child can result in elbow wars, messed-up papers or spilled milk (and tears).

Tell your child it's OK to respectfully ask if he might reverse direction?lead with the left foot or sit on the other side?when new tasks prove difficult. Children often assume new tasks are bound to be difficult, so they don't think to question teaching methods.

Tell your child God created her uniquely, including her hand dominance. Help your child see left-handedness as a blessing instead of a curse. Did you know that Michelangelo, artist of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, was ambidextrous? (Adam was painted receiving the gift of life with his left hand touching God's right.)

Assure your child that God made her to be adaptable, creative and with terrific potential to make a difference in this world.

?Laurie Winslow Sargent
Writer, mother, C.O.T.A.
(occupational therapy)

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