Righty or Lefty?

thumbsFrom an early age, children learn that they can use their hands to play, learn and explore the world around them. At around 2 – 3 years of age, children begin to develop a ‘hand preference’ (also sometimes called ‘hand dominance’ or ‘dominant hand’). This refers to the consistent favouring of one hand over the other when doing the more difficult part of a skilled activity. For example, when opening a jar, the preferred hand will unscrew the lid and the opposite hand will hold onto the jar.

The dominant side of the brain determines which hand becomes the preferred hand. Between the ages of 2 – 3, it is common for children to swap hands. By the time children reach 4 – 6 years of age, a clear definite hand preference is usually established.

If your child does not show a hand preference, do not choose or force your child to use one hand. Children who are forced to use their non-preferred hand as their preferred hand often experience many difficulties with drawing, cutting and handwriting skills. This is commonly seen in children who show a left-hand preference but are encouraged to use their right hand instead.

Strategies to help your child establish a hand preference

Carefully observe your child when playing and doing everyday activities. Notice whether your child is using one hand more than the other and which hand appears to be more skillful at completing the task. These everyday activities can include:

  • Using a spoon
  • Brushing teeth
  • Combing hair
  • Playing on the iPad
  • Turning a book
  • Turning a doorknob
  • Drawing/colouring
  • Pointing
  • Taking an object handed to your child

Place objects (such as a spoon, pencil or favourite toy) directly in the middle of your child. This will enable your child to freely choose which hand to use as well as to try out which hand feels most comfortable for your child.

When your child reaches for an object, encourage your child to keep using the same hand until your child has finished the activity. This process can be repeated with each new activity and documented to determine which hand is more dominant. If your child appears to be tired, allow them to have a rest by shaking their hands and then resuming the activity with the same hand.

Encourage your child to complete a variety of fine motor activities to provide them with many opportunities to determine your child’s hand preference. Examples of fine motor activities include:

  • Drawing with crayons, textas and pencils
  • Cutting out simple shapes and pictures
  • Cooking activities such as baking cupcakes
  • Art and craft activities such as painting, making Birthday cards and making hand puppets
  • Board games
  • Beading using a different beads and pastas to make jewellery

Developing a hand preference can also be achieved through many every day activities. These activities can include:

  • Removing lids off food containers
  • Water activities during bath/shower time such as pouring water, washing self using a face washer and drawing against the shower screen wall
  • Doing buttons and zippers
  • Preparing simple meals such as pouring cereal into the bowl
  • Packing own items into a bag

My child appears to have a left hand preference but keeps swapping to the right hand?

It is common for left-handed children to a take a little longer to consistently use their left-hand in tasks.  This may be the result of the child trying to imitate the movements and actions of a right-handed parent, siblings or peers. Another contributing factor is that many appliances and items are designed especially for right-handed people. This is particularly evident with scissors.

Did you know that…

  • Left-handedness occurs in about 10% of the population.
  • Studies show that the there is no difference between left and right-handed people in terms of overall intelligence, language impairment, and gross & fine motor skills
  • Left-handed in itself is not a problem but it can be difficult for left-handed people to adapt to the equipment that they given to use in the classroom.

Getting the right shoes for school

school shoesThe period of transition from pre-school to primary school is both exciting and full of challenges for many parents and their children. The question of “which school shoe is best?” often arises, as there are many options and differing opinions regarding what is best, as well as school uniform rules to consider.

The function of shoes will change throughout the lifespan- all babies are born with flat feet to assist with ‘packaging’ in utero. Feet then develop their arch over many years of weight-bearing and in many cases will remain flat, as Flat Feet have a genetic component. Flat Feet are not a problem unless they cause pain or unless they are very stiff. Many adults have Flat Feet and are without any complaints other than occasionally needing a wider-fitting shoe.

·      When very young, shoes should serve only for warmth/fashion and for protecting the toes when crawling across different surfaces. As your child begins to stand and use furniture for support you should begin to don shoes as tolerated. Choose a shoe that has a firm heel and supportive sides. When your child has only just learnt to walk, try to avoid putting them into baby-style flip-flops/thongs as these are a tripping hazard while they are still unsteady. These flip-flops or sandals are fine when your child has had a little more time to practice their walking.

School shoes are the shoes that your child will wear for the majority of their week. They will run in them at lunchtime, sit on the floor for extended periods and may walk to and from school in them. For this reason, it is important that school shoes be fitted properly. Some basic guidelines are:


  • Ask for a proper shoe fitting at a shoe store. When fitting for length, the shoe fitter should allow an extra ½ size to 1 full shoe size for growth throughout the year, depending on how old your child is. You can expect rapid growth spurts between the ages of 8-13 in girls and 10-15 in boys. Outside this time children grow fairly steadily at an average rate of 6cm per year.
  • Ask your child to wear their school socks when having their school shoes fitted. By wearing socks that are thinner/thicker than their everyday school socks, the shoe fitting can be inaccurate.
  • Avoid choosing shoes with a high heel for girls in the first years of primary school. The muscles in the calves can become tight quickly, leading to foot pain. Additionally, a shoe with a high heel can be unstable and may lead to ankle sprains.
  • Choose a shoe with leather upper where uniform rules allow. Leather will wear better over the year and will give better support to the growing foot.
  • Check that the shoe is fitted correctly for width. School shoes are unique in that they offer a range of widths, including a fitting for very narrow feet. It is important that the right width is selected for comfort and reduction of foot fatigue, but also to support the development of the arch of the foot.
  • Ensure you purchase new school shoes 1-2 weeks before school begins for the year to allow a ‘wearing in’ period. This will help reduce the chance of your child developing blisters.
  • Watch for blisters on the heels and the tops of the toes as your child grows.  This may be a sign that their school shoes no longer fit, or that they are repeatedly rubbing on one part of the foot.

A guide to happy haircuts!

Picture this: Your child needs a haircut, however the thought of taking them into the barbers or salon makes you feel sick. You know that a haircut means meltdown for your child and you don’t know how you will manage the tears, screaming, kicking and avoidance tactics. This could possibly result in your child leaving the hairdresser with only half a haircut or you making a do-it-yourself attempt at cutting your child’s hair.

haircut2Firstly: It is important to note that a child with sensory processing difficulties can be extremely sensitive to sound, touch and smells. A haircut includes a range of sounds and touch sensations which your child may be painfully sensitive to including the noise hair clippers make, vibration from clippers, noise of scissors, sensation of cutting hair, feeling loose hairs on their body, seeing hair fall onto their clothes, the feeling and sounds of the hairdryer, the smell of shampoo and conditioner or other hair products nearby … and the list goes on.

Some children have a “fight or flight” response to these types of sensation. This is called “sensory defensiveness” and should be further discussed with your Occupational Therapist if you are concerned about this. Sensory integration therapy may help to desensitize a child or assist the child to better process sensations they are exposed to.

Secondly: There are some try-it-yourself tips below that may be just what you are looking for and the key to a happy haircut.

  1. Observe your child during haircuts and even take notes. Try to work out if there is anything he/she particularly dislikes or cannot tolerate? Are there parts of a haircut that your child doesn’t mind and is able to tolerate without too much distress. You can use these notes to try to reduce or eliminate the specific parts of the haircut that he/she doesn’t like.
  2. Schedule a haircut for a time when your child is most calm and organized. Avoid times when your child may feel overwhelmed or be overloaded with sensory input, such as after shopping, after school, when tired or unwell.
  3. Slowly introduce your child to the haircut experience. First take your child to the salon and look through the window. Then take your child and introduce him/her to the hairdresser. Next take your child and sit him/her in the chair. You can have the hairdresser show your child the equipment they will use. Next time take your child to the hairdresser and work through the haircut.
  4. Use a social story about getting a haircut. This can be used to explain to your child exactly what will happen during the haircut and can be read each time before your child goes for a haircut. There are lots of commercially available books out there (e.g. Going to the Hairdresser – Avril Webster). You could also make your own story specific to your child using photos you take yourself.
  5. Develop a routine for haircuts. Consider whether your child needs a haircut once a week, once a fortnight, once a month or once every few months and try to schedule them for the same day and time with the same hairdresser where possible.
  6. For a child who is sensitive to the sound of the clippers or the clicking of the scissors, try using ear plugs or an iPod with your child’s favourite calming music/song.
  7. Wash your child’s hair at home prior to going to the hairdresser. Cutting clean, dry hair with clippers is much easier and will be faster. Washing the hair at home also eliminates an element of the hairdresser visit that a child may feel anxious about.
  8. Keep their hairstyles simple and consistent. Elaborate styles in the hair will take longer to cut and your child may not manage well with the change.
  9. Place a hand towel at the child’s forehead to avoid the loose hairs falling onto your child’s face. Perhaps roll it up so that he/she can still see what is happening in the mirror.
  10. Choose a small toy or food that motivates your child to use as a reward. Make sure it is something that your child enjoys.

Haircuts at home

  1. If you plan on hair cutting at home, make sure you buy a good quality haircut kit. Look for clippers with blade guards to avoid cutting the hair too short.
  2. Use unscented kids shampoo and conditioner if your child is sensitive to smells.
  3. Use deep pressure touch when you are washing your child’s hair. You could also try washing your child’s hair using shampoo on a washcloth, and rinse using clean water on a washcloth.
  4. At home, allow your child to help you prepare for haircuts. Prompt your child to get the towel or cape, comb/brush, clipper kit. Teach your child how to set up and pack away. Then let your child pass items to you that you need to involve them in the process and give warning of what will happen next.
  5. Play hairdressers with you child. Use old shampoo bottles, cape, comb, hairdryer, spray bottle and old hairspray bottle. This may help your child learn to generalize the experience. Act out and give similar directions to those given at the hairdresser, such as “turn your head to the side” or “look down” so that these have been practiced and may be better understood when at the hairdresser.

Tips for the hairdresser

  1. Try to keep the hairdresser who greets, seats and cuts the child’s hair consistent each time you visit.
  2. Be sure the child has a cape or towel draped over him to prevent lose hairs from falling on him/her.
  3. Try to cut the hair as fast as you can without rushing. Avoid stopping the cut to talk to others on the phone or in person.
  4. Reassure the child during the haircut. Explain each step using clear, simple language in a calm and steady voice.
  5. Provide praise, such as “good job keeping your head still”.
  6. Once the haircut is done, help the child to admire themselves in the mirror. Use positive phrases such as “Wow! You look handsome!”. Then present the child with their reward.

Choosing the right sport for your child

Choosing the right sport for your child


Why should my child play sport?

Team sports can help teach younger children many important social skills such as winning and losing, team work and playing by the rules. Additionally, they will learn to follow instructions and can develop a wider friendship circle. Older children benefit from the positive self-image that comes with mastery of skills, while developing their leadership abilities.

There are also numerous physical benefits of playing sport, including:

  • child kinder gymImproved physical fitness and endurance
  • Increased strength and flexibility
  • Better balance and co-ordination
  • Development of “Gross Motor” Skills such as throwing and catching
  • Reduced fatigue with everyday activities
  • Regulation of mood and sleep
  • Curbing creeping weight gain

Additionally, most sports include a regular period of stretching at training and on game day, which can help maintain muscle length during rapid growth spurts during childhood and adolescence.

Which sport should my child play?

While your child is still in early primary school, it is best to involve them in a variety of sports. You may find it helpful to enrol your child in the same sporting teams as their school friends, or ask for your child’s opinion when choosing a sport to ensure it is a positive experience. Additionally, many sporting clubs offer a trial period or a skills development day, where young children can try the sport and commit to an entire season if they find it enjoyable.

As a general rule, all children should complete a series of swimming lessons for the practical aspects of water safety and confidence in our beach-loving culture. Swimming also has the added benefits of improving ‘core strength’, which promotes good posture and can help your child sit for extended periods of time in the classroom.

You may find it beneficial to pick two sports across the two main seasons of the year that focus on developing different skills. E.g. Soccer in the winter for physical fitness and kicking skills; Baseball in the summer for throwing, catching and using a bat.  Alternatively, individual sports such as athletics, tennis and dancing usually run consistently throughout the year, though these should be paired with a team sport for the social benefits. Over time, your child’s natural talents and abilities will begin to direct which sports they would like to play long term.


“But my child has Special Needs…”

Children with physical disabilities can often find great pleasure in playing sport through specialised disability sporting associations. There are a wide variety of sports available, from horse riding to cricket for children with vision impairment. Children and adolescents with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can benefit from repetitive activities such as distance running and swimming, as these activities promote regulation of arousal levels.  Swimming or specialised Aquatic Therapy is a fantastic activity for children with all sorts of special needs because it offers many physical benefits with the added bonus of being fun! South West Kids Clinic offers Aquatic Therapy on Friday afternoons during school terms –ask your therapist for more details.