One of the things that parents discover about their babies is whether they are left or right handed – how and when will you find out? What causes a baby to be left or right handed and are there benefits to being left handed? Let’s explore some of these, and discover if your baby is among the 10% of population who are left handed!
When Can You Tell if your Baby is Left or Right Handed?
Babies do not start to exhibit their dominant hand till around seven to nine months old, and it takes until the age of two to three years old to determine if your baby is left or right handed. At an early age, you can start to observe which hand your baby tends to put in the mouth more often, or uses to push things or reach for objects. As your baby reaches preschool age, you can continue observing whether he grasps a crayon more frequently with his left or right hand. Lefties are also more likely to stir in a counter-clockwise direction. Your baby may also reach for an object with his non-dominant hand, but play and manipulate the toy with his dominant hand.
However, if your baby shows a strong inclination to use just one hand before one year old, it is recommended to inform the pediatrician as it could be indicative of certain motor development issues (or injury at one side of the brain). On the other hand, not displaying a dominant hand at four years old also warrants alerting the doctor.
What Determines whether one is Left or Right Handed?
There is much research in this area, but not conclusive. There may also not be a single factor for determining which is a dominant hand, but instead a combination of various factors such as:
Genetics – There is some correlation between family members but this is not conclusive as the correlation is not evident in twins. In more recent research, it has surfaced that handedness is not determined by a single gene but a few genes, in conjunction with environmental factors.
Environmental conditions (in the womb!) – There is research that conditions of the womb, stress or hormonal exposure affect whether a baby is left or right handed. A dominant hand may even be evident from studying fetal movements, such as tendency to raise a dominant hand in the womb.
Gender – As being left handed is more common in males, gender or testosterone hormone may have a role to play.
Should You Switch Your Baby from Left to Right Handed?
Caregiver may have some influence on whether a baby is left or right handed, especially in instances when the baby does not indicate a clear dominant hand. However, if your baby is more comfortable with using his left hand, it is not recommended to “force” a switch as it may lead to frustrations as your baby is unable to use his right hand as competently. In some culture, traditionally, caregivers will encourage the child to use his right hand for writing but there is no study to support its benefits. Instead, be supportive of your baby as he learns how to use his dominant left hand for both gross and fine motor skills, including getting left-handed stationery such as left-handed scissors and smudge-free pencil.
Benefits of being Left Handed
The most apparent advantage of being left handed is in sports, where right-handers are not used to playing against left-handers, such as in baseball, boxing, fencing and tennis. There are also some observations though inconclusive that being left handed has an upper hand in these areas!
Artistic – It is observed in a study that left-handers prefer visual learning, thus more likely to be artistic.
Creativity – It is often said that left-handers can think out of the box, but there is no conclusive research on this. The science behind it is that the right hemisphere controls the left hand, and is associated with creativity. However, the right hemisphere is also associated with emotions and there is also some statistics that lefties may be more likely to experience depression. Again, there is no absolute in this as the use or activation of which side of brain has not been linked definitively to which handedness one is.
Intelligence – Some statistics showed that a higher percentage of left-handers (compared to right-handers) had high IQs. One common cited fact was that a disproportionate number of US Presidents (eight ex-presidents, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton) were left-handers!
Multitasking – A dominant left-hand may require the person to activate more varied parts of the brain to complete certain tasks, hence the link to being able to handle unorganized information or scenarios better.
Overall, while there are many interesting facts (or myths!) associated with being left-handed, there is no conclusive research. The research is even less definitive when one goes into mixed-handedness, which may not be obvious as your child may write with his right hand but more skilled at other tasks with his left hand. Instead of assuming that your baby is going to have certain personality traits, focus instead of being supportive of your baby – at the end of the day, it does not really matter whether one is left or right handed.