The preferred hand (dominant hand) is when a child consistently uses a particular hand over the other to perform an activity. Hand dominance will usually start to develop between 2 and 4 years of age. Sometimes children will swap during this stage to determine which hand they prefer to use and able to master the activity with. However, usually between the age of 4 and 6 years a hand preference has been selected and established.

If your child does not seem to demonstrate a preference, don’t try to force the child but start to take note which hand is used more often and used more skillfully. Your occupational therapist can assist with developing a dominant hand and developing the skills needed to engage and master school-­‐based activities and other fine motor activities of daily living, but there are things you can do at home.

Quick tips for developing a hand preference:

  • Start to take note of which is hand is used more often for daily tasks such as brushing teeth, colouring, cutting, holding utensils and drinking.
  • Provide opportunities for hand skill development using everyday activities
  • If unsure of a hand preference position toys to the centre of the body and watch which hand is used to grab the toy.
  • Once a preference is identified, its important to consistently encourage the use of that hand to develop skill mastery.
  • Label hands as “doing hand” and “ helping hand” and encourage use of the “doing hand”.
  • Encourage your child to start and finish activities with the same hand rather than allowing to swap hands due to fatigue. Rest breaks are far better than allowing to swap hands.

Examples of everyday activities to encourage hand development:

  • Brushing teeth
  • Brushing hair
  • Using a fork or spoon when eating
  • Using a knife to butter bread
  • Removing lids from containers or yoghurts.
  • Zipping or unzipping clothing
  • Washing self in the bath
  • Wiping the kitchen bench or table
  • Finger painting or drawing
  • Craft work – using scissors or pasting activities.

This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute advice to a child or carer’s particular circumstances. Tip sheets are not intended to replace professional therapy services.

If you have any questions or would like additional information contact Grace Children’s Therapy on 1300 760 779.