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Parent Q&A: Encouraging Your Child to Use Their Affected Hand

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February 2016

Parent Question: How can I encourage my child to use his affected hand more? I feel like I’m constantly telling him to use righty.

  • To more effectively learn to use both hands for difficult tasks, encourage your child to try to incorporate their affected hand by providing physical prompts (for example, gently moving their arm toward an object) and demonstrations of hand placement.
  • Always give positive reinforcement when your child is using his or her affected hand for any activity—this will encourage him/her to do it more often.
  • Setting up the environment with toys that require two hands will also help your child continue to use both of his/her hands in tasks. In general, children respond to this natural integration of their hand better than verbal cueing (avoid saying “use righty/lefty” or “use both hands” too much). This is especially important with children who are developmentally in a phase when their natural response to everything you say is “no” or do the exact opposite of what you ask them to do.
  • Remember that your child will always choose to do things the way that they think is the fastest and easiest way to achieve their goal. It might be faster for them to do some things with their stronger side alone that you would typically do with both of your hands. If they are completing a task independently, they will likely not be receptive to encouragement to use both hands or use their non-dominant hand to complete the task.

General strategies for cueing for new tasks:

To cue your child to complete a task, go through the following progression of ways to cue him/her. If at any point he/she is able to complete the task on her own, let him/her do so, and praise his/her effort, even if it means that you completed the task together with your hand over her/his hand.

  1. Ask your child to complete the task (“Can you please pull your pants up?”)
  2. Show your child what to do (“The first step is to put your thumb here.”)
  3. Bring his/her hand to the starting position using your hand (“Let me help you get started.”)

General strategies to make tasks easier or harder for your child:

Easier: Harder:
  • Completing tasks while sitting
  • Completing tasks when calm and focused
  • Completing tasks with one extremity at a time
  • Reaching to affected side
  • Moving one joint at a time (just the shoulder, for example)
  • Completing tasks while standing or walking
  • Completing tasks when excited
  • Moving arms and legs at the same time
  • Reaching across the body
  • Moving all of the joints in the arm

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