Raising a Left-Handed Child in a Right-Handed World

Don't let your left-handed child feel left out. Help her feel comfortable and special by developing her left-hand skills for writing and playing sports.
child writing

Alexandra Grablewski

Statistics show that about 9 out of every 10 people worldwide are right-handed -- so a tenth of the population has been seemingly "left out" throughout history. Daniel J. Sonkin, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist who is left-handed, recalls growing up lefty in a righty world. "I never realized until I was older that the world is really made for right-handed people," Dr. Sonkin says. "I used to think I was just a little clumsy walking through doors, on steps, or moving quickly around obstacles. I learned later that there were subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- differences in the construction of objects that was based on handiness."

Ask parents when they first discovered their child's lefty preference, and most will tell you it was a gradual realization. "I don't remember exactly when we began to [realize] Chris was a lefty, [probably] somewhere as a toddler, before he was really able to write, he showed a preference with his fine motor skills" says Rebecca Allen-English, of Glen Ellyn, Illlinois, who has an 11-year-old son. Allen-English and her husband are both right-handed, According to The Natural Superiority of the Left-Hander by James T. deKay, if both parents are left-handed, there's a good chance that 50 percent of their children will be left-handed, too. But if neither parent is a lefty, the probability shrinks to only 2 percent. While that puts Allen-English's son in the minority, it's still clear that genetics play a strong role in handedness -- a concrete genetic connection wasn't discovered until 2007, when geneticist Dr. Clyde Francks found a gene on the male side that contributes to left-handedness.

Fortunately, there has never been a better time to be left-handed. Life is now made easier by tools such as left hand?friendly school supplies (pencil grips, tri-tip crayons, and scissors), and you can set up a workspace that accommodates left-handed tasks. If your child is interested in music as a hobby, left-handed guitars are available. If you can't predict what may hinder your child, try to see things from your child's perspective. "Practice doing everyday things with your left hand. That is really like putting the shoe on the other foot!" says Deb Graham, M.S., a special education expert in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, who works with left-handed children. So whether you're a left- or right-handed parent, recognize the opportunities and the challenges of raising a left-handed child. Read on for our advice on how to help your child grow into a strong, unique, and secure left-handed adult.

Praise Special Traits and Qualities

Make left-handedness feel like a blessing instead of a curse by treating it as one thing that makes your child distinct and special. Dr. Sonkin recalls that his parents were very supportive and that this went a long way in his development. "I remember they were kind of proud of my left-handedness. They had an intuitive sense that it was connected to my creativity and that was something they valued." Although words like distinct and special may seem like synonyms for different and unusual, they have very different connotations to a young child's ear. Usually, if the left hand is more dominant than the right, it means the right side of the brain is more dominant than the left, which favors intuition, emotion, imagination, creativity, and holistic thinking. So if your left-handed child is an artistic, creative, and imaginative, it's perfectly okay to praise the perks of being a southpaw. Thinking outside the box is a specialty of lefties, which translates well to problem-solving at school and beyond. Renell Madison-Welch, a mom of 12-year-old Shayley in Agoura, California, says her daughter's creative approach to problem-solving translates very well to her schoolwork. "When it comes to doing math problems, she says she just does whatever works for her and [it] gets her the correct answer. It must be working because math is her best subject!"

Keep Your Child in Good Company

Look to the past to remind your child he is in good company with Benjamin Franklin, who was so proud of his left-handedness that he wrote a whole treatise in favor of the left hand. You can also point out that five recent presidents have been left-handed: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Other amazing innovative performers, scientists, athletes, and musicians who were left-handed include Judy Garland, Jim Henson, Marie Curie, Leonardo Da Vinci, Babe Ruth, and Jimi Hendrix. And powerhouses Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are lefties.

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