Hand dominance and swapping
Hand dominance is where one hand has more influence or control than the other. This is sometimes referred to as hand preference, where one hand is preferred or chosen over the other, as it is more reliable in performing a range of skilled activities (handedness).
Hand dominance becomes more important as a child matures and begins to learn and master the key skill sets they need for school; such as how to use scissors and write. These kind of activities require one hand to have good and controlled fine motor skills (action/dominant hand) while the other hand either holds, feeds or stabilises an object (supporting/helper hand).
How to identify a child’s dominant hand
- Place an object in the middle of the table in front of the child, do this several times, and watch which hand they use to pick it up.
- Watch which hand they use to hold a brush to clean their teeth.
- When opening boxes or jars watch which hand holds the jar (supporting hand) and which one takes off the lid (dominant hand).
Watching how a child performs these types of tasks can help you to discover a child’s hand dominance or in slightly older children (5 - 6 yrs old) whether extra support in developing a hand dominance is needed.
Ideas to support hand dominance development
- Screw lids on and off jars.
- Assemble nuts and bolts
- Pushing cars or trains around a track laid on the floor
- Using tools such as a hammer or screwdriver
- Hanging up clothes or other objects
- Pouring or putting things in to different size containers
- Pick-up games using a finger pincer grip (usually needed to pick up smaller items)
- Ball skills, rolling or bowling with one hand (start with a larger ball moving to smaller)
- Lacing cards, sewing and bead stringing (start large then move to small)
- Cookie cutter in clay or dough
Hand swapping issues
Hand Swapping is a normal developmental stage in infants and young children and therefore, at this stage, not a sign that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand. However this is not ideal for a child who has started school.
Hand swapping throughout a task is not necessarily a sign
that a child is uncertain of their dominant hand.
There are two routes to tackling the hand swapping issue, the one to use depends on your answers to the following questions.
1. Does the child usually start with the one hand and then swap when that hand gets tired?
You can usually tell if this is the case because they may shake out or rub the tired hand and once it is rested go back to using it again. This is probably because their fine motor skills are weak. Through focused games and activities the muscle strength and dexterity can be gradually built up in the dominant hand, which in turn will build their stamina so that the hand swapping will reduce until they stop it altogether.
Once you are sure of dominance gently discourage swapping hands by taking a break from the activity and coming back to it a couple of minutes later using the preferred hand.
2. Does the child use their left hand if items are presented on their left hand side and their right hand if they are presented on the right hand side?
In toddlers and young children this is expected. In older children however it could mean that they have developed a delay in their skill to cross the mid-line point. This developmental bilateral coordination skill is vital to develop and can be addresses through a range of simple games and activities.