When does a child pick a dominant hand?

How to support your child when they are developing handedness.


Throughout early infancy and childhood, children first begin to learn bilateral coordination skills.

Bilateral coordination skills involve using both sides of their body to complete simultaneous, simple movements like clapping, or reaching for a cup. As children get older and they become more confident in using both sides of their body in a rhythmic and reciprocal way. At this stage they are developing skills in asymmetrical bilateral coordination.

Asymmetrical bilateral coordination is important for more complex fine motor activities such as drawing, writing and cutting where one hand is manipulating the tool and the other is stabilising the page.

Typically around 3-4 years old children begin to favour one hand more than the other.

Hand dominance or handedness is controlled by one side of the brain’s hemisphere becoming more proficient in motor planning. In approximately 90% of the population the left side of the brain is more proficient, which results in the right hand being favoured. Today, we understand that being right or left handed results in stronger motor performance on one side of the body, rather than the absence of motor ability on the submissive side. For children around 4 years of age you should start to notice that they are more proficient in using one hand more than the other.


So what should I look for if I’m unsure which hand my child prefers:


  • Can your child cross the midline: The midline is the imaginary line that divides our body into the left and the right sides. If your child has difficulty crossing the midline you might observe behaviours such as picking up blocks located on the left side of their body with the left hand and blocks on their right hand side with their right hand. Or they might draw/ write on the left side of the page with their left and swap to their right hand for the right side.
  • Which hand do they spontaneously use to pick up or reach for objects?
  • Can they perform upper limb movements that coordinate arm and hand movements and visual tracking of the task such as throwing and catching a ball?


What can I do if my child is hand swapping:


  • Set yourself in the child’s midline (face to face) at their eye level. Ask them to perform a series of hand movements such as waving, pretending to pat a dog, brushing their hair. Take note of which hand they spontaneously use when presented at midline.
  • Observe midline crossing: Position objects on either side of your child’s body and watch to see if they are favouring one hand more so and if they can cross the midline.
  • Verbally encourage the use of the hand they tend to be more proficient in. Typically, children who have difficulty establishing handedness will spontaneously use one hand slightly more than the other. For the purpose of handwriting and other fine motor tasks, it is important that they become more proficient and confident with one hand.
  • Consider general fine motor development: Observe your child’s fine motor skills when playing with small blocks, drawing or using cutlery.


If you have any concerns about your child’s hand dominance, midline crossing or general fine motor development, please feel free to contact us to chat with our OT’s, or book an assessment online today at www.cooeespeech.com.au

If your child is heading to prep next year, consider our holiday groups designed to increase children’s fine motor readiness and language skills prior to school entry!

Bre Surawski– Occupational Therapist.