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
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,
Your Left-Handed Child:
Making Things Easy for Left-Handers in a Right-Handed World by
"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.
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
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.
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
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
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."
Caitlin Murray Giles is the proud left-handed mother of a
left-handed 3-year-old and his two right-handed siblings.
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.
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