Ages & Stages: 0-5 years: When Left Is Right: Tips to Encourage a Left-Handed Child
“My son writes with his left hand, please fix that,” says a left-handed parent to the child’s kindergarten teacher on the first day of school. Surprising? Perhaps.
Throughout history, left-handed individuals have been viewed with curiosity and apprehension. As described in Rae Lindsay’s book, “Left is Right: The Survival Guide for Living Lefty in a Right-Handed World,” most anthropologists agree that handedness was split evenly during the Stone Age. During the Bronze Age, as tools became more sophisticated, they were designed to be used with the right hand. By about the 5th century BC, the Greeks began to write left to right and the right hand was clearly preferred as dominant.
For centuries, left-handed people have considered themselves oppressed by the right-handed majority. European languages have consistently shown a bias towards to the right; such as the Latin word for right-handed is dexter, as in dexterity, means skillful. On the other hand, the Italian word sinistra means both evil and left. And in English, of course, right also connotes moral superiority.
Left-handers have even been referred to as evil and their left-handiness was considered in need of correction. Historically, young children have been encouraged and sometimes forced to use their rights hands for most life activities such as writing and eating.
In recent years, these superstitious misconceptions have subsided although lefties are still living in a world that is primarily designed for right-handers. Still lefties are usually more flexible and can even perform some tasks ambidextrously out of necessity.
Handedness seems to be a biological occurrence, not cultural, since the percentage of lefties in most populations is about the same. Handedness seems to be the way our brains are programmed from early on, perhaps in the womb.
Lefties Are Different
About ten to twelve percent of people are left-handed, a definite minority. It is somewhat understandable that a parent would find it easier for her child to be in the majority, after all, childhood and schooling can be hard enough. According to Lindsay, “there is a correlation between being left-handed and ambidextrous and several physiological conditions, among them stuttering and dyslexia.”
Many artists and athletes have excelled in their fields using their handiness to their advantage. Left-handed fist-fighters have been thought to have the advantage because of the “surprise” factor. Although the link has not been scientifically proven, left-handed people are often considered to be more creative as a group than their right-handed counterparts.
In James T. de Kay’s book, “Left-Handed Kids: Why Are They so Different?” he claims that left-handed children tend to be messier, dreamier and more emotional than their right-handed peers. De Kay also says that lefties are likely to be smarter and more comical than right-handers.
One third of the American presidents since 1945 have been left-handed. Ronald Reagan was born a lefty but was forced to switch. Other famous lefties who have made an impact include Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Ben Franklin, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates.
Famous comics who are lefties include Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx, W.C. Fields, Dick van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.
De Kay writes that the “rational right-handed brain handles words” while the left-handed brain thinks in pictures. He writes how the left-handed brain “understands three-dimensional space, music, tone of voice and is highly imaginative.”
Teaching Left-Handed Kids
The world is not convenient for left-handed people. “You just have to adjust,” says Lori Deleuze, a kindergarten teacher. A lefty herself, Deleuze has been teaching pre-k and kindergarten for 14 years. She admits that it feels more natural for her to assist her right-handed students in learning how to hold a pencil for the first time since being right-handed is far more common and accepted.
As an early childhood teacher, Deleuze reminds parents that “handedness is a trait that you’re born with, part of who you are and linked to creativity.” She adds that left-handed children have to adapt to the way teachers relate to how they learn something for the first time, such as holding a pencil. Naturally left-handed people who were forced to “switch” to their right hands as children often experience confusion and frustration.
Left-handed children should be taught early on how to comfortably hold their pencil and position the paper. Parents and teachers can encourage left-handed children to use techniques that will lead to a smooth writing and classroom experiences. Adults should be mindful that left-handed children should have left-handed tools and learning materials, such as scissors and desks. They shouldn’t be expected to use their non-dominate hand or side or to articulate their needs.
Right-handed adults should sit across from the left-handed child, instead of next to, in order to provide a mirror image to model. Tips to ease the writing process can be found by visiting www.lefthander.com/writer.htm and handedness.org/action/leftwrite.html.
Above all, left-handed children should be encouraged to remain left-handed. Parents should teach their child to celebrate his or her left-handedness especially if they are struggling or feeling different because of it. Tell your left-handed child about the many famous left-handed individuals who have made major contributions throughout history. Being left for them is most definitely right!