While it’s developmentally appropriate for 3-year-olds to use either hand, you should notice that your child has a preference for one hand around age 4. Your job? Take note!
This is the age when she needs more refined control to draw, paint, and write. So if your child is working on a skill, her performance won’t get better if she’s splitting her practice between left and right. However, it’s normal for her to use one hand for writing and the other to throw a ball, for example.
Read on for tips when it come to determining whether she's naturally left or right handed:
Kids often use both hands simply because their hand muscles get tired! Activities such as building with Lego bricks or molding Play-Doh can help strengthen your child’s small hand muscles. But if your child is 4 and not clearly a lefty or a righty, his mixed dominance could be part of a larger pattern.
For example, if he is impatient, he might just grab and use a crayon in whatever hand is closest. If he struggles with physical coordination in other areas, constant switching could be a sign of a developmental delay.
Some kids have more trouble spontaneously reaching across their body. If that’s the case, you’ll see your child switch hands at the center of his body rather than reach across it. (He might color with his left hand on the left side of the paper and with his right hand on the right side.)
Practicing through play is best: Encourage activities such as beanbag tossing and hand games like “Miss Mary Mack.”
If you think your child doesn’t have a dominant hand, place a variety of objects directly in front of her throughout the day and make note of which hand she uses to reach for them.
When your tally reveals that she is choosing one hand about 70 percent of the time, you can assume that’s her preferred side. Gently encourage her to use it by placing writing implements, eating utensils, and even her drinking cup on that side.
If your tally reveals she truly is at 50/50, don’t worry. Keep giving her lots of practice using her small hand muscles and try again in a month.
Sources: Patricia Clark, occupational therapist for the Somerville school district in New Jersey; Jan Z. Olsen, occupational therapist and developer of the Handwriting Without Tears program; Sandra Schefkind, pediatric program manager at the American Occupational Therapy Association.