Rightie or Leftie: Understanding a Child's Dominant Hand

Righties, Lefties, Ambis and Mixed-Handedness Explained

Child's hand writing in notebook
Getty Images/PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini

Watching your child grow and develop is a joy. As they grow, the majority of children will develop a preference to use one hand over the other. They will soon be labeled as right-handed or left-handed and possibly ambidextrous.

What is a Dominant Hand?

Hand dominance is the preference for using one hand over the other to perform fine and gross motor tasks. This includes activities like writing, cutting or catching and throwing a ball.

This is not really a choice because it is not a conscious decision that we make as children. Genetics and the individual's brain play a role in the dominant hand.

Parents should be cautioned about trying to switch their child from one dominant hand to another. They should also not worry if their child does not develop a hand preference by a certain age. Allow nature to take its course and talk to your child's teacher or doctor if you do have any concerns.

When Does a Child Become Hand Dominant?

Some children choose their dominant hand very early. You may notice your son or daughter using their right hand more often when they are as young as 7-9 months. This may not be permanent, though.

The majority of the time, children begin to display permanent hand dominance at around 2-years-old. For some kids, it could be when they are 4 to 6-years-old.

When children begin learning to write in school, their teacher may note that they have not yet chosen a dominant hand.

Some never do and will be ambidextrous or mixed-handed.

Fun Fact: In about 20% of identical twin children, one twin will be left-handed and the other twin right-handed.

Types of Hand Dominance


People who prefer to use their right hand for the majority of tasks are right-handed (or righties).

The majority of people are right-handed. Common tools like scissors, can openers, even notebooks are often designed for right-handed use.


A small but growing segment of the population prefers to use their left hand for common tasks.

Also called lefties, left-handed people may find certain tasks challenging because the tools needed are designed for the right-handed majority. Today there are many left-handed options available for the most common tools.


Also called cross-dominance, a few people prefer to use either their right or left hand for one task and the opposite hand for another task.

For example, a child who is mix-handed may write with their right hand and throw a ball with their left.


Then, there are those people who can use either hand for almost any task. They are called ambidextrous (or ambis, for short) and make up about 1% of the population.

Two Hands, One Task

Though hand dominance means tasks are performed more efficiently by the dominant hand, the non-dominant hand also plays a significant role in completing tasks.

  This phenomenon of both hands working together is known as bilateral coordination and is important in many school-related tasks.

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