To begin with, in this article, when I say left-handed, I refer to children who predominantly use their left hand for eating, writing and other activities.
There is a lot of research specifying that hand dominance is determined by the brain. This should not be manipulated by us as it can impair development on various levels based on the manner in which it is done.
Google indicates that only 12% of the world population and 5% of Indians are left-handed. Clearly, one of the major reasons why we will never hear someone say, “Oh you are right handed! You should try using your left hand.” Sadly, even today, despite science, information and research available to us, there seems to be stigma attached to being left handed in our country.
“Accept the prasadam with your right hand”, “How many times should I tell you to eat with your right hand?” “At least try using your right hand, it’s just a matter of practice” We often hear this around left-handed children.
When children are constantly told that the hand they are using naturally is the wrong hand to use, there is tremendous confusion because physiologically their brain is asking them to do something while the adults around them instruct them to do the exact opposite.
The impact of this constant correction can seriously erode a child’s self- esteem. They may try using their non-dominant hand, but their dexterity, flexibility, speed, focus is all compromised. Thus, they are unable to give their 100% to the task at hand. This is further coupled with the fear of being scolded and often punished. Lack of empathy and forceful change through fear can traumatize children leading to long term effects like and not limited to, poor reflexes, poor hand-eye coordination, delayed gross and fine motor skills, speech impairments etc. This seriously affects the quality of children’s work and diminishes their self-confidence.
(Finally, there is utter disrespect towards the child. It is like constantly nagging a child for having certain coloured eyes or for the way they breathe! )
Parents find that while they may be accepting of their child’s left-handedness but are at the receiving end of judgement and prejudice from the wider family, friends or even complete strangers!
We parents need to remember, that we are our child’s ally. Young children need an advocate until they can stand up for themselves. This in turn teaches them to stand up for themselves. Let’s support our child, speak up if we feel their school teacher, art teacher or the neighbour across the street has been shaming them for using their left hand. Their nicest intention does not help our child.
We can be prepared, especially when we are going to family gatherings or parties by having a set of phrases ready. ‘Please let her be, she is left handed’ “We believe in letting her use whichever hand she is most comfortable with” “Is it bothering you very much to see somebody using a different hand than usual? I can share some information about left handedness, if you’d like” “Please do not correct her, he is doing nothing wrong”. Be assertive and confident, not confrontational, unless the circumstance warrants it! Delivered with a smile, most people will be respectful of our stance.
If we are struggling watching our child being left-handed, remember it is conditioning and we can undo it. When we try using our left hand instead of our right for writing or eating we see how hard it can be. That's how our left handed child feels when we ask them to use their right hand. It’s hard enough for them to use a spoon or fork for the first time and to use it with their non-dominant hand makes it even harder.
We live in a right-handed world, let’s support our left-handed friends and family to the maximum extent possible.
Author: Seemanthini Iyer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.