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Handedness in Children

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 28 Aug 2016 | comments*Discuss
Handedness Left Handed Right Handed

A few generations ago there was a strong social preference for right handedness and parents would often try to persuade their children to predominantly use their right hands. Today, most parents are completely comfortable letting their children's handedness develop naturally, and they rarely try to exert any influence on their children's innate preference.

Nature or Nurture?
There are many theories as to why some people are inclined toward either right or left handedness but at this point, there are no definitive answers. Hand preference does seem to run in families, according to the following statistics:

  • Of right handed couples, over 90% of the children are 'righties', too.
  • Left handed couples produce children who are lefties about half of the time.
  • In mixed couples, the children are right handed about 80% of the time.
It could be argued that parental influence, rather than genetic disposition accounts for the dominance of right handedness, but even infants often show a preference for one hand over the other. Additionally, research shows that in children who are adopted, their handedness is likely to be more closely related to their biological, rather than their adoptive parents.

Right Brain - Left Brain
The muscles on each side of our bodies are controlled by the opposite side of the brain. Additionally, sensory information is sent to the opposite body side, which explains why when a brain suffers damage on one side, the physical affects are seen on the other (as in strokes). The left side of the brain is dominant for language in about 95% of right handed people, but about 65% of the time, the left side is dominant for lefties, as well. What does all of this mean? For starters, it questions traditional thinking which says that the right side of the brain controls creative thinking while the left side controls logical thinking, making right handed people logical thinkers while lefties are said to be more creative.

Hand Preference Development
Young babies tend to use the hand that is most convenient at the time. If an object is placed near their right hand, they will reach with that one, but if it nearer their left hand, they are likely to reach with their left. By about 18 months, most babies begin to show a hand preference (about 90% of the time, it is for their right hands) and by their third birthdays, almost all children can be described as either right or left handed. When parents simply let their children use the hand of their choice, about nine out of ten will ultimately be right handed.

There has been some speculation that even without meaning to, parents may exert subtle influences that steer their children toward right handedness, such as routinely placing eating utensils near their children's right hands or placing writing instruments in that hand. A study of unborn babies in the UK found that handedness may be well established, though, even before babies are born. It determined that when babies suck their thumbs in utero, they choose their right hand about 90% of the time, much the same as the percentage of right handed people in the general public. Additionally, follow ups with the babies as they grew showed that their in utero preferences matched their eventual handedness.

Parental Influence
Among parents who consciously try to guide their children toward using one hand or another, they typically tend to prefer that their children favour their right hands. Most will say they do this to make things easier for their children, as many manufacturers gear scissors, hand tools, and other items for right handed users. There has also been some speculation that left handed children are more prone to epilepsy, learning disorders, or autism than their right handed peers, but studies in this area are inconclusive, at best. Most experts in child development recommend that parents simply allow their children to use the hand that seems to be most comfortable for them, without worry. After all, parenthood comes with plenty of reasons to fret, why look for more?

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there are many factors that determine the choice of child handedness which are not not explained in this paper. These factors are: i. culture/tradition of an individual: some cultures believe that it is so bad for one to use his left hands to do eat and use it for another functions. like in Islam they believe that it is the devil that use the left hand.
Azumi - 28-Aug-16 @ 7:01 PM
Thank goodness the days of teachers making pupils write right-handed have passed! These days the whole idea seems bizarre but it really did happen. As a left-hander, I was forced to change the way I wrote (still using my left hand) even though the way I’d developed naturally meant I didn’t blot what I’d just written. Strange days eh?
Chris - 5-Oct-12 @ 2:26 PM
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