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Ask the Experts

How Can I Help My Left-Handed Child?

By Dr. Ron Taffel, Family Therapist

Question:

How do you help a left-handed child with various fine motor skills like cutting correctly (she cuts very awkwardly), and writing (she writes mirror image)? Is it purely developmental, or should I be encouraging her to turn it around? Lefties think differently as well, and I am fearful that a kindergarten teacher may not have specific knowledge on how to address her needs.

Answer:

Children start kindergarten at different skill and developmental levels, and many will catch up as the year progresses. Try not to correct your child too often, but if there's no progress during the year or if you're concerned about the teacher's approach, another professional's input might be helpful. Your instincts and your child's attitude towards the teacher will help you decide whether to intervene. If that point comes, ask someone you trust for a referral to get a simple, cognitive evaluation-just to better understand your child's specific learning style.

You're right. Sometimes it's a developmental thing, and other times teachers can use a little guidance from a respected professional in the area. A cognitive evaluation-testing motor and language processing-is brief, child friendly and may be inexpensive or, if referred by your pediatrician, covered by medical insurance. Think of it as a "skills check-up" much the way children get physicals. A lot of kids would benefit from your healthy curiosity and sensitivity towards your child-and a lot of children would feel more comfortable in "big school," if their unique qualities were better appreciated.


Dr. Ron Taffel is a noted child and family therapist, and author of Parenting by Heart, Why Parents Disagree, Nurturing Good Children Now, The Second Family, and a guide for child professionals, Getting Through to Difficult Kids and Parents. He consults with and lectures at schools and community organizations around the country. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/10/2011:
"This is reminiscent of a child who speaks a foreign language as well as English. The child has an advantage, and the teacher isn't aware. 'Southpaws' have an advantage. Run with it."
07/19/2010:
"My son is also left-handed, and I just discovered that the scissors I bought him (labelled for left and right) are actually still wrong. True left-hand scissors switch the blades around as well as molding the grips to fit properly. They're also nearly impossible to find locally, so I'm going to have to mail order a decent pair for him. If you buy the ambidextrous kind (my term for them since I don't know if they're actually called that) the left-handed user will still have to cut awkwardly to be able to see the line he's following as he cuts."
04/12/2010:
"I am left handed, and I used to write mirror messages in high school for fun. I was always in honors and won multiple scholarships to college. There is nothing wrong with being left handed! My fine motor skills aren't the best either, and it's never really held me back. Once you get out of the early elementary years, you don't have to use scissors to often."
10/16/2007:
"1) My advice to educators and parents is to present information for them to reflect. If your child has same hand dominance as you sit side-by-side modeling activity. If you are opposite dominance sit across from the child as you model activities. 2) Foot and hand dominance are not always the same but often are---is the child using their right or left foot to kick -place a ballon or ball in front of them and see what they do. 3) Pushing a pencil is overrated--do many manipulative activities for fine motor development. Also, pick many things causing right and left hand to work together. Construction toys, crafts, clays and playdough... 4) Be sure the muscle group above the target task get lot of exercise. You can not have good fine muscle control if the upper arm control is weak. 5) Read about brain development-we are learning so much about how information is processed and controled."
09/11/2007:
"I have a son who is using his left hand at this time. I think that it is just fine. He is in kindergarten and he is also very creative. Parents should focus more on helping your children to be open minded & they will pretty much learn what works best for them. GO LEFTIES!"
06/18/2007:
"What's up with the left handed thing? You act as if it's an undesireable trait. I wouldn't use left handedness as a reason why a child is having difficulty cutting with scissors. Perhaps you need to focus on other areas. Being a left handed person in no way implies she has special needs. As her mother you know best, speak to the teacher and keep an open line of communication with them. Don't project that she's alienated in some way. Encourage her and teach her to love herself and others. Her hair color sounds beautiful and also not another reason for alarm. People spend thousands trying to duplicate red hair. By the way, I'm a successful red headed, left handed female. Thought you should know."
01/9/2007:
"My son is a mirror writer and since the teacher feels this is some sort of learning disability I have decided to help him learn to write in the accepted form, but encourage him to continue to write in mirror at home. I have read that only 1 in 6500 children can actually do this perfectly like my son. Da Vinci was a mirror writer and I doubt anyone would consider him learning disabled. My son can write with either hand, but he prefers to use his left at this time. Since he is a redhead I figure he is just being what I call 'red brained'. I have no doubt he will get past this and grow-up to be a highly intelligent individual thinker as long a the school system would stop trying to mold him into their idea of the perfect child/student. I think our world could use more free thinkers."
03/16/2006:
"I'm curious as to why this parent wasn't asked whether or not her daughter is using right- or left-handed scissors. A left-hander can learn to cut perfectly well with right-handed scissors (held in the left hand), but you have to 'hold it funny' to do it. Just thought I'd mention it..."
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