Let left-hander be as nature intended

CHILD LIFE

July 28, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My child is left-handed, and my husband says we should bring him up to be right-handed. I don't think it's right to switch hand preference, but he insists. I'd like some tips.

-- J.W., San Francisco

Leave your lefty alone. Forcing a child to switch hands can cause problems as serious as depression, low self-esteem and delayed motor skills.

Lots of left-handed adults called Child Life to share their own horror stories.

"My mother used to tie my hand to the chair," says L.T. of Mahwah, N.J. "I still resent her for it. I can't say it too strongly: Let the kid go with nature. Otherwise you are going to end up with a basket case."

Many readers are surprised that being left-handed is still a concern these days.

"I am stunned that in 1996 a parent would even consider the idea of trying to change a child's 'handedness,' " says left-handed reader Mary-Jo Hill of Cary, N.C. "I can think of no reason that would justify traumatizing a child into learning something contrary to his/her born nature."

Experts agree. The pressure to change natural hand preference can create secondary symptoms such as depression and low self-esteem, says Jane Healey, a neuropsychologist on the faculty of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"You shouldn't fool around with Mother Nature," says Healey, a left-hander who has researched the subject extensively.

"You confuse the child," Healey says. "The child was born this way for a reason, a purpose in life."

Forcing a child to make the switch also can cause delays in motor skills, says Joseph Petronio,pediatric neurosurgeon at Egleston Children's Hospital at Emory University in Atlanta.

"They're going to be behind, and their social development may also suffer," he says. "It conveys the message the child is not adequate."

One reader from Miami, who was forced to switch as a child, knows about the confusion.

"To this day, I have difficulty telling my left from my right," Teresa Verplanck says.

Petronio, the neurosurgeon, who considers handedness to be 'God-given,' says there are many factors -- not simply one gene -- that go into determining hand preference.

Many callers blame stuttering on a forced switch, but Healey and Petronio say evidence is anecdotal rather than scientific.

"Nobody really understands the genetics of handedness," Petronio says. "It's an area of substantial investigation."

Even in the 1990s, some parents have the urge to change their lefties because of the stigma that continues due to a lack of awareness. The message that it's all right to be left-handed and all wrong to try to change hand preference still hasn't reached everybody, Healey says.

Parents who try to change their children do have the child's best interest at heart. Healey says they usually believe they are helping them avoid the minor inconveniences of being left-

handed or are enhancing their athletic or intellectual skills.

When parents disagree on the matter, Healey says they must resolve it or the child will have the added confusion of getting caught in the middle.

The father should ask himself why he wants his son to change, Healey says.

"What is his issue? Was he a lefty? Was he born to believe this was bad?" she says.

"If your eyes were blue and his brown, would you have him change his eye color?" asks reader Heather R. Cooper of Tacoma, Wash.

A few callers suggest the father experience firsthand what he is trying to make his son do.

"Tell your husband to [use] his other hand for a week first and see how he likes it," says Scott Hedrick, a lefty from Trenton, Fla. "If he isn't willing to do that, ask him why he wants to put your child through something he isn't willing to put up with."

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to bevmillol.com.

Absent aunt: "My sister-in-law (unmarried, 40s, childless), announced prior to her niece's birth that she wanted to have nothing to do with the child," says S.L. of Atlanta. "She said she had a rotten childhood and therefore steers clear of children. When our daughter is old enough to notice the cold shoulder treatment, how do we handle it with her? There is going to be no way to avoid this issue at family gatherings."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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