“Why does my child change hands during an activity?”, “Is this ok?”, “Should I encourage my child to use only one hand?”. “He’s using his left, isn’t it best to be right-handed?

Parents often have many questions about hand dominance. Hand dominance or hand preference refers to the consistent choice of using one hand over the other for a skilled activity. For instance, we use our dominant hand to write or to cut while using the other hand to support the paper. Establishing hand dominance is important, as this allows refinement of our fine-motor skills and movements, and therefore enables us to complete more skilled and precise fine-motor activities.

Children usually start to develop their hand preference between two and four years of age but don’t establish clear hand dominance until the age of four to six years old. Before hand dominance is acquired, it is common for children to move from using one hand to the other and back. This is especially true for children who have difficulties in bilateral coordination, using both hands together and crossing their midline.

To encourage the establishment of a hand preference, you should not choose or force your child to use one hand. There is no difference or advantage in being either right-handed or left-handed. You should, instead, observe if your child uses one hand more than the other, or if one of their hands is more skilled, when playing or completing daily activities. For example, when brushing their teeth, feeding themselves, colouring or cutting. Then you can encourage them to use their preferred hand to complete a wide range of tasks and use the other hand to assist completion of tasks whenever possible. For example, when cutting, encourage your child to use their preferred hand to hold the scissors and the other hand to hold the paper.

The following are some tips and activities that facilitate the development of hand preference.

  • Provide as many opportunities as possible for your child to use their hands for a range of play and daily activities. For example, drawing, colouring, cutting, building with blocks or Lego, threading, using utensils during mealtimes, and dressing.
  • Present toys or objects in the child’s midline, so they can choose which hand they are going to use rather than using the hand that is closest to the object.
  • Once your child starts to use one hand more often than the other, encourage them to use this hand consistently.
  • Encourage your child to take regular rest breaks during an activity rather than switching to using their other hand.
  • Take part in gross-motor activities that require bilateral coordination and crossing the midline. For example, crawling, climbing off and on playground equipment, throwing a ball with one hand, batting a ball or balloon, reaching across to the other side of the body etc.



Occupational Therapy – Kids health information: Hand preference. Department of Occupational Therapy, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne 2005