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  • Namamana Ba? There May Be More to a Child's Hand Preference Than His Genes

    Hand preference may be influenced by early life factors, but parents still shouldn’t dictate it.
    by Rachel Perez .
Namamana Ba? There May Be More to a Child's Hand Preference Than His Genes
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Whether your baby got your eyes or your partner’s nose is going to be more evident as your baby grows. It's trickier to determine non-physical traits, like handedness, whether children are born with it (it’s in the genes as well!), or if this is nurtured or learned as they grow.

    Handedness, or hand preference, is defined by the U.S. National Library of Medicine as the tendency to be more skilled and comfortable using one hand for tasks such as writing and throwing a ball. Majority of the world’s population is right-handed. Left-handed people comprise 10 percent, while mixed handedness, or being able to perform tasks properly using both hands, is rare.

    You baby’s hand preference may be evident before birth

    Ultrasounds in the 1980s show that babies in the womb appear to suck thumbs on their dominant hand by Week 13, and this is believed to be linked to activity in the brain’s right and left hemispheres. Researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, however, found that the brain is not yet that developed enough to control arm and hand movements during the first or second trimester.

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    Researchers were able to analyze date of 8- to 12-week old babies in the womb and confirmed that right- of left-hand preference is rooted in the spinal cord segments that control arm and leg movement. It is only in the latter part of the pregnancy that the spinal cord will be connected to the brain.

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    Handedness is 25 percent in the genes and 75 percent due to other factors

    Babies in the womb already have a preference for handedness. Is there a gene that dictates a baby’s preferred hand? There is not only one, but about 40 or more genes that contribute to this trait. Many children of left-handed parents are more likely to be left-handed than children of right-handed parents.

    “Only about 25% of the individual variance in handedness can be explained by genes, while 75% is determined by environmental influences,” writes Sebastian Ocklenburg, Ph.D., author of The Asymmetric Brain, on Psychology Today. Other factors also contribute to handedness, such as environmental influences in the womb. Studies have linked low birth weight to it—being part of multiple births increases the chances of being left-handed.

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    Boys are also three times more likely to be left-handed than girls, and babies who were not breastfed may also be more predisposed to favoring the left hand. All these factors were only statistically significant, but not definitive.

    Encourage your child to use his dominant hand, not your preferred one

    Parents may notice their child’s preferred hand at around age 2 when he starts developing motor skills. It’s often evident by the time the child is already playing ball or stacking blocks. If not, continue to encourage him to hold objects using each hand, allowing him to choose which one he’s more comfortable with. When he shows a preference, give him activities that support and strengthen his dominant hand.

    Don’t dictate or try to “correct” your child’s handedness. There is nothing wrong with being left-handed. Forcing a left-handed child to be right-handed could affect how your child’s brain is wired, and thus, pushing it to work harder. This could lead to your child having difficulties in writing or using scissors or knives, and get tired quickly when doing them.

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    Want to find ways to develop and hone your child’s motor skills before starting preschool? Click here. It works for both left- and right-handed kids!

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