What is hand dominance and laterality?

According to the Royal Children’s Hospital, hand preference, laterality or dominance are all terms used to describe a child’s spontaneous inclination towards using one hand more than the other when performing motor skill activities.

This doesn’t mean that one hand does all the work and the other just stays in the background! The non-dominant hand has the very important role of helping with a task by supporting and stabilizing. As you can imagine, this involves the capacity to do independent and yet coordinated things with both hands. Actually, researchers have found that developing a hand dominance is necessary to achieve this asymmetrical bilateral coordination, as it is called by pediatricians.

Regarding laterality and hand skills, a group of researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine published in 2010 an article in the Journal of Hand Therapy. Their findings suggested that good dexterity in the dominant hand predicts also a good dexterity score on a test when using only the non-dominant hand. They also found that there’s a relationship between hand muscular strength and functional dexterity, or how well they accomplish tasks involving precise and complicated hand movements.

Although we might be used to laterality and having a preferred hand to write and do activities with, the establishment of left or right-handedness is a very complex process. In children, this process starts taking place early in their neural development, and usually starts being noticeable around 2 to 4 years of age when a kid’s fine and gross motor skills have developed enough for them to use crayons, scissors or other tools. If you want to encourage your daughter’s laterality development, occupational and physical therapists recommend that when handing her items, you place them in her midline, so that your little one’s brain has a more evident need to select the hand that is going to take over the task of reaching and grabbing something.

Ideas to help your child’s finger dexterity skills

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, manual or hand dexterity refers to a person’s ability to manipulate objects using coordinated hand and finger movements. Having good finger dexterity requires that a child’s skeletal, muscular and neurological systems join together to produce the precise movements needed to grasp, pinch, hold, pull and do other manual movements that we, as adults, use every day without thinking too much about it.

Around 36 months of age, you’ll notice that your son will start engaging actively with the objects surrounding him and will interact with more controlled and precise hand movements. For example, he’ll turn book pages one at a time, mold shapes with playdough and even use scissors and kid-sized tools under your supervision. Here are some activities you can do alongside your preschooler in order to help him further develop his manual and finger skills:
• Make pasta necklaces.
• Play with playdough. A fun task is creating imaginary animals using the dough and other materials, like pipe cleaners, children-friendly glitter, etc.
• Write in sand.
• Cut big and hollow shapes in cardboard, and have your children weave wool or ribbon around them. This is great for seasonal arts and crafts, you just need to cut big shapes of hearts or stars.
• Practice opening and closing big buttons or zippers.
• Do finger painting or, if your child is already dexterous, paint with Q-tips.
• Have your child help you when you bake and ask him to cut different shapes using cookie cutters on the extended dough.

Boosting your child’s musical skills: why and how

A decade ago all the newspapers where talking about the so called “Mozart effect”, it stated that by simply listening to Mozart babies got smarter. Well, we now know that nothing is ever that simple, but that doesn’t mean that music isn’t very valuable for your child’s development! Research like the one of French neuroscientists from the Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives de la Méditerranée, demonstrated that there are important correlations between a preschooler’s musical skills and their non-verbal reasoning. According to Sylvain Moreno’s 2009 paper published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, a child’s phonemic awareness, reading skills and even speech production skills benefit from being exposed to music.

In 2001, Sally Blythe from the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology published a book titled The Genius of Natural Childhood, in which she stated that traditional songs, like lullabies and nursery rhymes, beyond being comforting and fun for your little girl, are actually developmentally necessary. According to her studies, singing and listening to music is a precursor for later emotional wellbeing and school-readiness in children because they prepare their hearing, voice and brain for further language development. The American Academy of Pediatrics assesses that between 2 and 4 years of age children are in a critical moment of language acquisition, so that is a great moment to give them a boost.

Because much research suggests that developing musical skills can have a very positive impact on a preschooler’s ability to communicate, here are some ideas on how you can help your daughter’s development through music:
• Make a habit of singing some fun songs together. Chose one simple enough for your preschooler to memorize, and it can even become part of a bedtime or morning ritual.
• Make your own musical instruments by filling plastic eggs with different amounts of uncooked rice and sand, have your child shake them and make different rhythms.
• Share a couple of songs you love with her and play it on the background sometimes as a way of teaching how to enjoy listening to music.
• Dance wearing a couple of bells on your clothes, like the ones that are attached to Christmas Elf costumes.
• Make a playlist of songs all the family loves and play in different occasions as background music.

The impact of musical skills on early childhood development

Since the early 90s, professor of psychology Susan Hallam, from the University College London, has set out to study how musical skills might be related to other skills, especially during critical moments of children’s development. Her studies advocate the importance of musical skills during and beyond childhood, and are based on a process called “transfer of learning”. Transference of learning refers to the phenomenon where if two or more activities share many subordinated skills or brain pathways, when a person gets better at one skill in particular it actually influences other domains of abilities or development. The most commonly cited example is that of automatically processing music and language: a person uses the same set of neural skills to read and comprehend the meaning of either musical notes or letters. We can also transfer our skills in a more reflected and conscious manner, like when we use our hearing of an emotive song in order to process some feelings, or when we love an album so much that we end up exercising our memory skills by memorizing the lyrics by heart.

Her findings suggest that engaging with music from an early age, even just listening to it, has lasting benefits through a child’s life. Developing the musical skills of your son is also beneficial for his perceptual skills, literacy, gross motor development, body coordination and conceptual reasoning. Beyond having a fun time together, when you share the music you love with your son, sing together or dance to a cool beat, you are actually helping multiple aspects of his development!

You can read the complete paper by following this link:

My child’s balance skills

Along with gross motor control, balance is an essential skill. We use it every time we maintain any controlled body posture or position: standing up, hopping on one foot, riding a bike, walking or simply sitting without falling sideways. Children need their balance skills for many things beyond their physical actions. Increased mobility and stability of their bodies mean that children between 2 and 4 years of age start venturing more into pretend play alone or alongside peers, they begin playing games that involve sitting (like drawing or coloring) and they start asserting their independence by putting clothes on and off, or using a fork to eat with increased autonomy.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around 36 months of age, most children can seat themselves in a child-sized chair, bend over without falling, climb the ladders in the playground, and even walk on tiptoes for four or five steps without help. Then, approaching 4 years of age, your daughter’s balance skills will be sufficient to let her stand on one foot for at least two seconds without problem.

But balance skills don’t end during the preschool years! A group of researchers from Taipei Hospital looked into how balance skills develop through infancy into what we’d think of as an “adult-level” of balance. Their findings, published in 2009’s International Journal of Pediatric Otolaryngology, suggest that balance skills start spiking around 36 months of age, and children achieve optimal balance by the time they are 12 years old. This is why it’s so important to help your child build a stable and strong base for skills like this during her early years of childhood.

There are many easy and fun ways to encourage your little one to develop her balance skills. Here are a couple of ideas:
• Dance together to some fun music. You can model moving upper and lower body parts to the rhythm. If your daughter gets really good at this, you can try playing “Musical statues”.
• When sitting on the floor playing, encourage your child to sit with her legs crossed. By doing so she’ll engage her core muscles to maintain an upright position.
• For your 3 to 4-year-old, you can practice learning to pedal in the tricycle.

Stating independence at the table: tips for picky eating

There are many reasons why a child might appear to be picky around food. Sometimes your son is just exploring how much he can push against the rules and limits you set, or maybe he really dislikes a specific taste or texture, or he finds that trying new things is difficult for him. This is especially true with children between 36 and 48 months of age because, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around this age kids start eating more independently, using feeding utensils and drinking and pouring liquids from open cups.

For this article, we’ll give you some ideas on how to encourage your little one to venture into tasting new foods, while also respecting his efforts for stating independence and autonomy at the dinner table:

• Model eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
• Combine new foods with others that are well-known and loved, and try to introduce one new item at a time.
• Expose your kids to a fruit or vegetable garden, or have your 4-year-old go with you to the farmers market.
• Make sure to present food at a comfortably warm temperature.
• When introducing a new food, encourage exploration. Have your child try touching the food, smelling it and taking a small bite out of it. Small steps go a long way.
• Expose your kids to new foods and keep presenting them many times for a couple of weeks. Researchers suggest that by doing this, it’s most likely your child will learn to accept it.
• Have your child be your little helper around the kitchen. You can ask him to help with simple supervised tasks while you cook or bake, like mixing and rolling little balls.
• Make meals interesting and fun. You can try mixing colors and shapes into a plate.
• Make mealtime a distraction-free moment of communication.
• Encourage tasting everything on the plate, but don’t make it a rule to clean it off. This makes for a more positive experience, avoids power-struggles and helps children get in tune with their hunger and fullness cues.
• Give praise for progress and acknowledge effort.

Tips for dealing with defiance while also encouraging growth

Between 2 and 4 years of age, among all the amazing milestones your daughter is reaching, chances are you have already encountered a dreaded marker of your little one’s social and emotional development: defiance.

The experience of being a toddler or a preschooler is filled with curiosity, imagination and also an increasing need for autonomy and exploring boundaries. With a still developing prefrontal cortex, you can imagine how, being a young kid in a world of grown-ups, she enjoys and is happy to assert all the power and control she might get her hands on. At times, parenting a small kid can be very frustrating, especially when confronted with a continuous stream of no’s, but if you think of this behavior as your daughter’s way of exploring her newly found independence you will be able to respond in a nurturing way that will continue to encourage growth, autonomy and exploration. Here are some tips on how to do so:

• Think “what’s the message that my child is trying to communicate by saying no?”. Your child is not being defiant in order to frustrate you, she is trying to express something.
• Recognize your child’s actions and feelings, and try not to engage in a power struggle. Instead, try to voice what’s happening.
• When anticipating a “no”, try and change the question or task into one where there’s room for your child to make some decisions and exert a bit of control. For example, you can ask your daughter which toys does she want to pick up first.
• Try to empathize with what your child is experiencing and why she is refusing to engage with it.
• Model responding instead of reacting. Your kid is learning how to self-regulate herself and how to assert independence by watching you.
• Ask her to be your important helper.
• Encourage putting feelings into words and other ways of self-expression.
• Remember it’s not personal, its developmental!

Beyond defiance: saying “no” and stating independence

As developmental psychologist Erick Erickson stated half a century ago, a big part of a child’s social and emotional development during the first years of life is the struggle of navigating both dependence and autonomy. As he moves into his toddlerhood and preschooler years, your child is experientially exploring the concept of “personhood” and working hard at establishing himself as an independent individual.

Beyond knowing his name, age, dislikes and likes, developing autonomy requires your son to venture into stating that he is entitled to feelings and opinions that might not only be different from your own, but might also be in conflict with your wishes. It’s here where you might feel like you’re stranded in the “no-land” alongside your kid.

Because cognitive development is still in its early stages, between 2 and 4 years of age kids are just starting to think of the world in categories and concepts, and they begin by seeing things through the binary “yes-no”. Also, even though your kid’s language skills have undoubtedly developed a lot by now, they are still in their early stages and aren’t of much use when your little one tries to communicate with you. For a preschooler, saying “no” is far more reachable than explaining in long sentences and complicated grammar that those socks you insist on putting on him are actually very itchy.

Being able to express disaccord is a fundamental part of human experience, just as it is noticing the differences, see similarities, think abstractly, generalize, arrive at new conclusions, build bridges between us and create new things. When your child says “no”, he is beginning to problematize things, assert independence and individuality through language, thus opening up many more developmental doors.

How can I know my little child is self-aware?

Beyond parental curiosity, for decades, the question of when, why and how children develop self-awareness has been a crucial inquiry for developmental psychology. In the book The Interpersonal World of the Infant, published in 1985, psychologist and researcher Daniel Stern drew conclusions from his experiments with infants and toddlers and presented the first evidence of self-awareness in young children.

In one of his behavioral experiments, he placed children between 12 and 30 months of age in front of a mirror, and marked, without the child noticing or being aware of a mark, the kid’s faces with rouge. When in front of the mirror, he observed that kids younger than 18 months old appeared to be unaware that what they had in front of them was their own reflection. In the other hand, most kids beyond the eighteen-month mark, when they saw the paint in their reflected face, they immediately touched the mark on their faces instead of the mirror. Thanks to his findings, we now know to expect important changes in self-awareness between 2 and 3 years old.

There are many ways in which your child might show her increased self-awareness. For example, when she starts to use pronouns to refer to herself, when she states what she likes or dislikes, or when she shows personal preferences towards clothes, food, animals or characters, when she starts using first names to refer to people she knows, including herself, and, further in her socio-emotional development, when she starts showing interest in friendships and adventure into sharing toys and showing empathy.

The impact of self-awareness skills

When we talk about children’s self-awareness skills, we are referring to their capacity to know themselves and, based on that knowledge, evaluate and respond appropriately to different personal and interpersonal situations. Thanks to self-awareness we know what we like, dislike, how were prone to react in certain situations, and how best to self-regulate our emotions and thoughts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these skills start developing around toddlerhood and continue to do so until adolescence and young adulthood, when a person’s personality settles a bit more after lots of self-exploration.

How having good self-awareness skills will help your child:
• Understand her own feelings, thoughts and subjectivity.
• Understand that her mind is unique and separate from other people’s.
• Make the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
• Comprehend that other people are equally valuable than her, even if they think differently.
• Estimate how difficult or easy something might be.
• Understand her own strengths and develop a sense of self-worth and pride.
• Admit her mistakes and accept help.
• Develop empathy for others, as well as compassion for herself.
• Notice in what situations and with what things she struggles, and to identify how to work on it.
• Think about how her actions might impact other people.

Because we constantly need to use our self-awareness skills in a myriad of different situations, and these skills lay the groundwork for many other social, emotional and academic aspects of development, it’s important to help your kid develop her self-awareness skills. Your little one will reap the benefits of this throughout life.