When Can You Tell If a Child Is Right or Left Handed?

Most everyone has a preference for one hand over the other for the fine motor skills like writing, eating and using tools. About 90 percent of the population prefers using the right hand for fine motor skills, according to the International Children’s Education. Although you won’t be able to tell which hand your baby prefers at first, this hand dominance should soon become obvious. Watch your child’s behavior and you’ll soon see clues about which hand is dominant.

Preference Age

From birth, young babies don’t usually have a preference for either the left or the right hand. You may start to get a few clues about which hand your child prefers somewhere between 7 and 9 months of age. A child may start to show a definite preference for the left or right hand by 18 months of age. It’s not unheard of for a child between 4 and 6 years of age to still use left and right hands interchangeably, according to the Children’s Physician Network 1. If a child doesn't have a preference by the end of kindergarten, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation recommends consulting with a professional to have your child evaluated.

Clues to Look For

Watch your child as she eats to notice the hand she prefers for holding a spoon or fork. Try handing your child a toy to see which hand she reaches out with to take it. Give your child a wind-up toy and watch to see how she tries to wind it – if she wants to wind it counter-clockwise, she may have a preference for her left hand. Play a simple game of catch with your child and note which hand she uses to throw the ball and catch it.

Hand Dominance Tests

Satisfy your curiosity with a few simple hand dominance tests, suggested by the University of Wisconsin, Extension program. Provide your child with a puppet to play with, but don’t hand it to him – let him pick it up so you can watch what hand he uses for the puppet. Give your child a tool or a writing utensil handing it to him at the midline of his body so as not to create a preference for either hand. Watch to see which hand he uses to take the item. Generally, people will choose to manipulate a toy or use a tool with their dominant hand.


Some people have an equal preference for both hands – termed ambidexterity. If you think this is the case with your child, get a professional evaluation to make sure your child doesn’t have a specific preference for a hand. Once you’ve confirmed ambidexterity, the UW-Extension website advises that parents should encourage a child to use the right hand rather than the left hand in this situation. Although preferring and using the left hand is perfectly acceptable, the reality of being left handed may be somewhat challenging for a young child 1. Society in general, including tools and the design of some school desks, and opening doors, favors right-handed people. Lefties can also be at a higher risk for injuries, according to the study "Is being left-handed a handicap?" written by Adrian E. Flatt and published by Baylor University Medical Center 1.