When should my child pick a hand dominance?

Sunday, May 8, 2011 by Courtney Stanley
By about 5 years of age, especially when learning to write his letters, your child should have chosen a hand dominance. Up until 5 years of age, it is typical for children to switch hands when coloring or drawing. This fosters the development of fine motor skills in both hands. However, if your child continues to switch hands when they begin to write, it can interfere with their ability to correctly form letters.

If you find that your 5-year-old colors the left side of the page with his/her left hand and the right side of the page with his/her right hand, it may be that he has difficulty crossing the midline (center) of his body. This could lead to difficulty with the development of bilateral skills necessary for gross and fine motor development.

How do you facilitate midline crossing skills and the establishment of hand dominance?
  • Typically, children will demonstrate better grasp and pencil control with one hand over the other. Present a pencil at midline and allow your child to pick up the pencil with whichever hand they prefer - this will likely be his/her dominant hand. 
  • Draw on an easel or other large surface to encourage your child to make large shapes which will facilitate midline crossing skills
  • Use ribbons or even just a finger to draw shapes in the air, making sure your child is moving his arms in all directions (up, down, left, right, diagonal, circular, etc.)
Keep in mind, children develop at different rates and some children may establish a hand dominance earlier or later. If you have specific questions or concerns about your child's hand dominance or handwriting skills, please ask your Child and Family Development occupational therapist.

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