Can Parents Influence a Child's Handedness?

If you're a lefty, you might have vivid memories of parents and teachers doggedly trying to get you to use "Mr. Righty" instead. If you see signs of left-handedness in your toddler, you might wonder if there's anything you can do at an early age to encourage right-handedness, since around 90 percent of the world functions that way. While you can set up situations that prompt your tot to choose the right hand over the left, in the end, the choice is his.


A family history peppered with left-handers might increase the chances that your toddler will have the same preference, although genetics isn't the entire story. According to Dr. Chris McManus, author of Right Hand, Left Hand, parents who are left-handed are more likely to have a left-handed child; if you both use your left hand, your toddler has a 26 percent chance of doing the same. If only one of you is left-handed, the chance of having a left-handed child is around 19 percent, still higher than the average 10 percent.

Social Influences

Until recently, parents and teachers often tried -- sometimes vigorously -- to change a lefty's hand preference. Techniques from smacking a lefty's hand with a ruler in school every time he used it to tying a young child's left hand behind his back were used with some children in the past. The current rate of lefties is about three times higher than the percentage of left-handers between 1880 and 1900, when left-handedness fell to its lowest levels, according to a University College London study. So while you can change your child's handedness through punitive methods, it's not recommended.

Simple Techniques

If your toddler didn't show a definite hand preference from birth, you could show him how most of the world operates by hanging toys to hit at near his right hand from infancy on, by putting silverware and cups on his right side or by placing crayons or other tools into his right hand to help him lean toward the right rather than the left. For a child with a definite and early hand preference, manipulating your toddler's world to make it easier to go right probably won't change a thing. Most kids develop a hand preference between 18 months and age 3 to 4, but some take even longer to make up their minds.

Why to Try

It's still a right-handed world, so if your little scribbler doesn't seem to have a preference, it won't hurt to try and encourage right-hand use by placing writing objects in that hand. But if he comes out of the womb sucking his left thumb and never looks back, accept the fact that your little one is a member of the minority and start buying left-handed scissors and tools so he won't become frustrated at being left in a right-handed world.