Q. My 5-year-old son has not yet selected a dominant hand. Several individuals have made suggestions for strategies to force him to select one, and to develop his dominate hemisphere. My brother is ambidextrous and I wonder about the wisdom of their advice.

A. I applaud you for wanting the best for your son! Since he has always exhibited ambidextrous behaviors, what makes them think they know the way in which his brain was wired for handedness? People sometimes mistakenly assume that all human beings have a dominant hand and it needs to be the “right” one. The “right” one is different for different individuals. In fact, innate ambidexterity may not be as rare as you may have been led to believe. It may appear to be so (at least in some settings) because adults often push children to select a dominant hand, usually the right hand. Since you have an ambidextrous brother your son's giftedness may be genetic. I suggest that you try to prevent others from putting pressure on your son to select a dominant hand.

Certainly you can encourage him to be who he is innately. Make it easy for him to use either or both hands for tasks according to his own preference. Place utensils, pencils, tools, etc., in the midline and allow him to pick them up with whichever hand he chooses to use. Place tools or toys in easy reach and allow him to access them on his own. It’s so easy to hand a child an object in a way that prompts him/her to take it with the right hand. Avoid trying to force him into choosing a dominant hand because, if you happened to push him toward selecting the more energy-intensive hand for his brain profile, he can expend more energy than is necessary or desirable, and could become frustrated and discouraged in the process. Life is challenging enough without adding a stressor that could have been avoided.


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