Raising a lefty
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Although being a lefty is certainly not frowned upon or discouraged as it once was, left-handed kids living in a right-handed world face some challenges that aren't always obvious to parents (particularly right-handed parents).
Left-handed kids can struggle to adjust to everyday tasks such as dressing, handwriting and learning to play sports or musical instruments.
When Colleen Yurkovich of Bartlett realized her 3-year-old daughter Maggie was left-handed, she wasn't exactly thrilled.
Loving Lefties: How to Raise your Left-handed Child in a Right-handed World by Jane M. Healey, Ph.D.
Your Left-Handed Child: Making Things Easy for Left-Handers in a Right-Handed World by Lauren Milsom
"No one in our family is left-handed. I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to teach her how to do things like tie her shoes or swing a baseball bat," says Yurkovich.
Worse, young children who don't have the ability to articulate their confusion or frustration as they struggle to master new skills are particularly vulnerable.
This issue can impact a child's development and self-esteem. Left-handed kids may be uncomfortable with the fact that they do things differently than their right-handed peers. Yurkovich's daughter went through a stage where she wanted to be right-handed like her older sister and cousins.
"We've had to really work with her to convince her that it is OK to just be who she is. This year, she has another left-handed girl in her class and that has made her less self-conscious about being different," says Yurkovich.
Specific challenges for southpaws
Historically, lefties were scorned and feared. The word "sinister" derives from the Latin word for left. Even the devil was traditionally depicted as being left-handed. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, children who favored their left hand were encouraged to use their right hand instead.
Although these practices and beliefs are no longer prevalent, left-handers still live in a world that favors the right-handed majority. Scissors, musical instruments and many everyday kitchen tools are designed for the convenience of right-handers.
Adults sometimes aren't able to competently show kids how to do things the left-handed way. Even more confusing, many kids fall into a "gray area" and use their right hand for some activities and their left hand for others.
Although well-intentioned, parents, teachers and coaches often fail to appreciate the unique challenges that left-handed people face. Sometimes adult efforts to "correct" or "help" don't take into account left-handed kids' needs.
A little extra effort to see the world from your lefty's perspective can make a big difference.
Now an adult, left-handed Lisa Dell of Chicago remembers fondly her father's efforts to re-learn how to tie his shoes left-handed so he could teach her how to do it. "I know that was not an easy task for my dad, but I'm thankful for the patience he showed in teaching me a new skill. My parents never made me feel out of place or different for being left-handed. It wasn't until I entered school that I even realized most people preferred their right hand," says Dell.
Because the left-handed brain (right hemisphere dominant) is wired differently from its right-handed counterpart (left hemisphere dominant), little lefties have their own unique set of learning strengths.
Amy Turn Sharp has watched her 5-year-old left-handed son Finn struggle with his fine motor skills. "He has difficulty using scissors and his handwriting is sloppy. At home, we work on small, fine motor skill activities such as using tweezers, cutting and tearing up paper," says Sharp. She commends Finn's kindergarten teacher for working with him, too.
Of course, being left-handed isn't always a negative-lefties also enjoy some notable benefits. Left-handers consistently excel in sports such as baseball and tennis. Lefties are also thought to be highly creative. Parents of left-handers may be relieved to hear that graduate schools usually have a higher-than-normal percentage of lefties in their student body.
And several recent presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, are all southpaws.
Advice for parents of lefties
Parents who seek out information about the challenges and benefits of left-handedness will be better prepared to assist and advocate for their left-handed children.
Dr. Lori Walsh, a pediatrician with Glenbrook Pediatrics in Glenview and at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, stresses that parents should not try to steer a child one way or another when it comes to handedness-just take note of their tendencies and let nature take its course.
Handedness is usually determined sometime between 18 months and 3 years old, she says. By kindergarten, most children have a clear preference.
Walsh encourages parents to raise any concerns or questions they may have about their child's hand preference at routine check-ups because this isn't an issue pediatricians will generally raise on their own. Parents should also tell their pediatrician if their child does not have any hand preference by the time they reach school age because this could be a warning sign of possible learning problems.
Based on her experience, Walsh says many of the difficulties that left-handers face are rooted in the fact that nearly everything is set up for right-handers. "I believe that most problems have to do with materials or instruction rather than developmental concerns," she says.
Walsh encourages parents to reach out to teachers for advice on teaching their kids how to do things the left-handed way. "Based on the statistics, approximately 10 percent of the students that teachers work with are left-handed so they usually have more practical experience showing left-handers how to tie shoes or write than a pediatrician would," says Walsh.
However, she also warns parents should not assume that all teachers, coaches and other adults interacting with their child have more experience dealing with left-handers than you do. "Observe your child closely in new situations. Parents should not be afraid to intervene and advocate for their left-handed child if they notice that the child is struggling or not getting the explanation that they need."