April 12, 2007

Forcing Children to Switch

This question comes up again and again. I am constantly amazed that in the 21st century, in a supposedly enlightened civilization, there are still people who think it's a good idea to force a left-handed child to switch to the right hand.

Help!I've been operating the Left-Handed Page for many years and have heard from thousands of people, left-handers of all kinds, as well as researchers, writers, teachers and parents.

I have never come across any subject of forced switching who claims to be glad he was switched. Most describe it as misguided at best, and as vicious child abuse at worst. Many excuse and forgive their parents for having forced them, because they see that the parents were either well-meaning or simply ignorant. But that does not make the victim feel any better about the experience and its aftermath. While a small minority seems able to switch without difficulty, this is not typical. Again and again, I hear from people who say that having been forced to switch caused problems that bothered them for the rest of their lives. Physical awkwardness is a recurring problem, preventing the person from doing well at sports, interfering with the ability to use tools, contributing to bad handwriting, and causing the person to be tense and easily fatigued. Some report mild to moderate learning disabilities, difficulty thinking, social problems, emotional isolation, etc. Surely a loving parent would not want this for his child.

61 comments:

  1. I always notice people's dominant hand when they sit across my desk from me; naturally the left-handers are of special interest. Once the person realizes I am left-handed too, the stories start. Always. And I am frankly amazed that the subject of switching still comes up. I went to school in the late 50's & 60's and by then I don't recall it being an issue, although possibly it still was in parochial schools. I've had numerous people who were 'switched' say it doesn't bother them, several figuring they were meant to be right-handed anyway. HUH? How ridiculous! Being left-handed is a central part of who I am, and being so is as important to me as breathing. I cannot imagine having to deal with all there is to cope with in life sometimes, AND function without using the dominant side of my brain. When my daughters were born, I was so hoping one of them would be a leftie, but alas, neither of them were. I remember reading that crayons or pencils or forks should be set in front of them, in the middle of the high chair tray or table, and let them choose. I remember quite clearly watching them both go with the right hand. While a little bit let down, I was still thrilled to see that they had 'their side' - and I had mine.

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  2. As a comment I'd like to offer my own weird story. Left-handedness has always had a special charm for me. But I considered myself right-handed, I was writing and drawing with my right. But then three years ago I found an article in a magazine offering to check how much left-handed you are. I tried. Since then everything changed. First I started to write and draw with my left and it was fun.Then I preceded to do everything with my left. Sometimes it wasn't easy, because my left appeared to be not that strong to open the lids, for example. But I persisted, though sometimes I was afraid that I wasn't a left-hander and that I was doing something stupid. When my mom noticed using my left(I came to visit her), she started to get mad and yell at me that I stopped doing that. I asked my father, he said I was starting to do everything with my left as a child. I believe I was made to switch, but then why don't I remember it?
    I am still not sure if I have a right to be called a left-hander. I just decided to stop worring and get the pleasure of doing things with my left.

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  3. I think that forcing left-handed children to write with their right hand is cruel, and outdated. There is this prejudice in society against the left hand - in French, the word for left is 'gauche', which in English is used to denote awkward and clumsy. I agree that some people are born left-handed and should not be forced to switch to right. It just does not work. In some instances it is inevitable that a switch is made, e.g. after a stroke has incapacitated the right-hand side. The result is not usually an improvement.

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  4. I still think we've come a long way though. My girlfriend even has a lef-handed chequebook!

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  5. I, my stepmother, and my favorite aunt are all left-handed. My stepmother used to tell me how lucky I was that it's okay now to be left-handed, as she was forced to switch as a child in the fifties. I can't imagine having to go through that kind of torture and ridicule, as, even with practice, my right hand is next to useless in most fine motor skills. Fortunately, my grandparents were never so thoughtless with my aunt, who gave me my first good pair of left-handed sewing scissors which I use to this day, over twenty years later.

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  6. My son is left handed. I remember when raising him (I being a right hander) how some tasks that I never thought about suddenly became impossible to teach him to do like tying his shoes. I had to seek out a southpaw to show him how to do it. It took a whole 2 minutes for him to learn after I spent months trying to show him how it was done. I still never considered forcing him to to things right handed. Some parents do understand that the natural order of things for a child is more important than convention or convenience.

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  7. I'm left handed and had no problems at school etc, because my dad was a leftie. He was not forced to switch even in the 1930's - obciously an enlightened teacher there! He now rights with his right hand though. At the age of about 20, he broke all the fingers of his left hand, and has never bothered to swap back. He does almost everything else left handed again.

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  8. My 3 year old brother is probably a leftie... my parents are letting him do things with whatever hand he feels like. I'm happy to see that there's more information out there for my parents. Thanks.

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  9. My first-born is a lefty. She is very out-going and loves to draw, paint, play pretend. My mil seems to be a very artistic righty, and my mother is definitely a lefty. So my other children have a good chance of being lefties too, right? We are home-schooling, so I guess that's one way of protecting my dc from those who don't empathize with lefties. I'm so glad the grandparents have left-tendencies so they can see why my little lefty doesn't always see things the way other children do. My mother's brother was forced to switch but she was not, only two years later.

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  10. I'm from the Philippines, and when I was in grade school, I have teachers who would "force" lefty kids to write using their right hand. I think this is very unfortunate, as it has nothing to do with learning at all.

    I read somewhere that the Latin word for left is "sinister." The French word for left is "gauche" which means clumsy or awkward. I think the meaning of these words now has a lot to do with how society looks at left-handed people before.

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  11. I was born in the 60's and was apparently forced from left to right handed, but I don't recall the switch. I do remember having very good penmanship and having talented drawing skills at an early age. In sports I had a strong throwing arm, but I did kick with my left foot. Is this any indication that maybe I was always a righty?

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  12. Rob, it's hard to say whether you were always righty or not. A lot of people have mixed dominance, so even lefties who weren't switched sometimes do certain things with their right hand or right foot.

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  13. I was born left handed and my mom thought it was a gift and encouraged me to draw and paint, because she thought that being left handed was an advantage for artistic things. I also play guitar and bass, but as a right handed, because my guitar teacher didn't know how to teach me as a leftie. But I am good at it anyway.

    My husband, who is 34, however, was born left handed but his grandma forced him to use his right hand because she said, "The left hand is devil's hand." Haha! That was soooo funny to hear. I said, I AM LEFT HANDED, Granny, and she was like, "The left handed write horrible!" That was her excuse, haha.

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  14. I wasn't made to switch. But, I was told that I started out writing with my left, but then later wrote with my right.

    I'm now ambidextrous. :)

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  15. I'm born a lefty, and I guess I'm still considered one. Since young I've been using chopsticks and writing with my left hand, but that's about it. Most "daily" actions are done with my right hand; for example, using the computer mouse or lifting things (somehow, my right hand is stronger than my left). My left hand is used for 'precision' things while my right does most of the rough work.

    I think it's kinda strange, but I guess that's what society has blended into me.

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  16. I went to school in the 70's. My classmates just laughed at me "Lefty is good at nothing". For years I have suffered from stuttering, which might be caused by that I was forced to write with my right hand. Now I'm writing and using the computer mouse with my left hand but my "lifetime language problem" is still there. Painful.

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  17. As I posted before, being left handed is more than whether one uses one hand or the other to do things with, its a matter of cerebral wiring of that person's thought processes. Thus a person forced to switch usually doesn't rewire one's thought processes but simply writes an internal adaptive program that tells him or her how to do that right handed procedure as a left handed process, which will usually slow them down in executing that right handed procedure. This is why lefties sometimes seem slow, or clumsy. As far as writing goes, many languages are definitely designed with right handers in mind. When writing as a right hander with either a pencil or pen the hand and writing implement are both pulled away from the mark as its being made creating very little drag as well as a better range of hand movement as opposed to a left handed person having to push the writing implement into the paper creating much more drag and reducing the the writer's range of fluid movement.

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  18. I come from a family of southpaws. Both parents, my brother and myself are, which I think is kind of cool. But as a schoolboy, my dad was forced to use his right hand (small town in Ontario in the late 40's-50's), and was strapped many times when caught using his left hand. As an adult his writing was practically illegible, as he never properly learned how to write left handed, nor could he master using his right. It just makes me shake my head that just a short time ago, in relation to the history of mankind, people still believed such nonsense like being left-handed was a sign of the devil. Thank goodness that insanity is now recognised for what it was, BS...

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  19. The problem with a loving parent is that they try and see to it that their child "fits " into the society which of course implies that the child should be doing what a majority of the world does -- the conventional way, so to say. The parent might feel that in doing this, they are rendering the child a service by making them acceptable but as pointed out, it almost always does the opposite as bending a person, especially a child, breaks the individuality.

    It is perhaps not strange that the ignorance about left handedness still persists; our "advancement" has been much more in technology, not in reason and tolerance.

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  20. Dude, yeah, in Kindergarten which was only like 1992 or so, my teacher made me switch writing hands and every time I switched back after a few minutes she made me switch back. I had the worst handwriting after that until probably 3rd grade or so, second grade teacher thought I was being sloppy so made me stay in during recesses to rewrite stuff. It sucked. But whatever, I do pretty much everything left handed now but write, I can write ok with left hand, trying to get better, maybe I can get the whole two-hand thing down.

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  21. I remember my kindergarten teacher smacked my left hand to make me switch my very first day! When I told my Mom about it, She told my brothers(4 older) to watch me while she went to the school. I am the only Lefty in my family. I will never know what exactly happened that day. All I remember was from that day on, my teacher never touched me again! She actually became one of my favorite teachers from gradeschool. MOMS RULE!

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  22. I've always thought that's interesting that people take such things as what hand you are to become something that needs to be changed about the person. I give it a big WHO CARES. If your kid is a lefty, then good. Be happy your kid can even write/throw a ball/ect.

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  23. I am also left-handed. When I started learning to write, my mother would scold me and force me to use my right hand. However, I really couldn't write with my right hand at that time, so I continued writing with my left hand. Fortunately, my mother stopped scolding me. I think I was also left-handed in other ways but learned to adapt using my right hand for other activities and tools since there was no choice.

    When I reached high school, I tried writing with my right hand, out of curiosity or boredom. I think I write fairly well though I'm not sure if I'm ambidextrous.

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  24. I have an aunt who was forced to switch from her left hand to her right hand, and to this day her handwriting is awful Thank goodness those days are over. My sister, sister-in-law, and my niece are also left-handed. I noticed that there are some products out there now, such as scissors, where it doesn't make a difference which hand you use. I think we still have a pair of my sister's "Lefty" scissors from grammar school around the house.

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  25. My MIL grew up in the era when people were forced to be right handed. Fortunately she adapted relatively well, but she still bears a grudge against the nuns at her parochial elementary school. ;) My eldest daughter (age 11) is left handed and I am very glad that we did not have to put her through a forced switch since times have changed and reason has prevailed.

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  26. I've been reading here that people that were forced to switch from left handed to right handed always had poor hand-writing. I've been told that I always had good hand writing and I also have a signature that resembles my fathers who is a righty. Does this mean anything?

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  27. It seems to me I've got a clue as for the question "I’ve been told that I always had good hand writing and I also have a signature that resembles my fathers who is a righty. Does this mean anything?"
    Did your father make you switch? If yes, it can mean that subconsciously you understood that it would be more safe to be like your father, meaning write like him, copy his way of signing papers.
    I've noticed the same thing as for my manner of writing with my right. And the funny thing is that my righty handwriting is just like my mom's, who actually forced me to switch.

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  28. I agree that making children switch hands seems totally barbaric and unncessary. And, as is obvious from the many articles on your site, even if you make a child change the hand that they WRITE with, they still might use their left hand for sports, or for playing music, and that's just confusing. Nowadays, why should it make any difference what hand you write with? As long as you're writing, surely that's good!

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  29. I think I was switched when I was younger because I do a lot of thing left-handed like batting, archery, brushing my teeth and such. That would also explain why my handwriting is horrible. I might try writing with my left hand and see how that goes.

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  30. Hi all,

    I was forced to switch hands "rather softly" when I was two or three, and drew with my left-hand at the time. Then I was forced to switch not really softly at school, by the age of 5. I still do lots of things left, but there're also a few things I do better right by now. It bothers me a lot to have been forced, and for some weeks I've been learning to write back with my left hand. But it's long and difficult. I've got the feeling I've been stolen from myself. If by starting being FULLY left-handed again I feel less tense and irritated, I also feel very depressed by moment because I think I will never be "me" again. Will I be able to recover fully my left-handedness. Thank you.

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  31. I am left handed and Chinese (:
    People who are Chinese considered using their left hand disrespectful. My mom was once a lefty and was forced to switch and she writes horribly. But she still does most things with her left. My grandma doesn't like people who are lefties, so when we have dinner I use my right hand to hold my spoon (not chopsticks because it's harder to grip and it slips often) or my fork. She has also kinda forced me to be right handed but I never listened to that. I am hecka proud I'm a lefty (:

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  32. In fourth grade, my class made a chart of who was lefty and who was righty. There were three students who were lefty, plus our teacher. He told us that we should never let anyone switch us, because he was switched at a Catholic school, and it caused enormous problems for him.

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  33. I'm a righty but there are times I wish I was a lefty. I know from experiance that in the game of tennis leftys actually have an advantage over rightys, because they are not used to the spin. I also know that some things can be hard for them also, as I am in a marching drumline, leftys are supposed to learn to change and start the beat with their right hand. Not becuase there trying to change their hand though, just because it is supposed to be uniform but I feel bad for them because I know it is hard to switch.

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  34. I was left handed up until the middle of my 4th grade when a teacher had me change to my right hand. My penmanship never recovered. Unless I write in a very deliberate and slow fashion my writing will be terrible. Around the time I changed we were still using fountain pens and, like most lefties, I would drag the blade of my let hand over my work which caused ink smears galore.
    Years later my parents said I went through a period of stuttering at the time I was changed to using my right hand. I don't recall the stuttering.

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  35. sorry, I just read my comment, I did mean I was left handed as a child

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  36. I just found out a few minutes ago in a conversation with my mom that I was right handed as child.

    This was 30 years ago, since then I've been using my right hand and it always felt odd to me but I always ignored it.

    I don't want to use this an excuse to my life but honestly this explains a few things for me.

    My writing is horrible with my right hand and that kept me advancing in my job for a number of years.

    Wow, this is just a shocker.

    I'm going to train myself to use my left hand, but how do I go about that?

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  37. Steve, in general, I would simply suggest that you practice every day and have patience. Samuel Randolph wrote a book called Hidden Handedness in which he described how he retrained himself to use his left hand after discovering that he had been switched as a child. Reading about his experience might be helpful to you.

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  38. went to school first grade 1932 and was continuously forced to write with my right hand. When I went to second grade, it was my understanding that no child should be forced to change from left to right. To this day, 2008, I am a lefty, only one of nine childrend, have a beautiful hand writing and printing and have been asked throughout life to teach other left handed kids to write without smearing the paper by writing under their letters or numbers. Today, I use my right hand for scissor cutting, ironing and many other chores in life, but I still do consider myself a lefty and proud of it..

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  39. My 4 year old son. Has always seemed to use both hands. We have let him use which ever hand he wants. He now seems to always write with his right hand, but continues throw with his left hand. We are not sure if the writing aspect is because he sees big brother use his write hand???? We have done different "tests" to try to determine which hand he is. For example, we will give him a ball in his right hand -- he will switch to his left to throw. We will give him a pencil in his left hand and he will switch to his right. Does anyone have any thoughts???

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  40. My first primary school was a backward NSW State Government School "Brewongle" where I was sent for the first month of my school life before my parents took me away and sent me to a wonderful Domininic Sisters Primary School in Bathurst. The trauma of being forced by the NSW State Government - as a confirmed 6 year old left hander - to feel abnormal, was such a stigma that I forced myself to be righthanded which has resulted in 46 years of mental anguish. In a litigious age I am considering suing the NSW State Government for child abuse and mental torture.

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  41. Sam - I don't know whether it might be too late to sue. But I would love to see forced switching officially defined as child abuse. This still goes on in many places in the world and it should be stopped.

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  42. I'm strongly left handed and lucky that I was never asked to change. I do everything with my left with the exception of using the mouse, dealing cards and playing guitar. Regarding guitar - I think lefties have the advantage playing a right handed guitar. The left hand is the fretting hand and the right hand just picks or strums the strings.
    Another advantage of being left handed comes up in my work as a baseball coach. I can stand on the other side of the plate and demonstrate batting swings for right handed kids as their "mirror image."

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  43. Oh, one more advantage lefties have regarding baseball. When batting, we're closer to first base!

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  44. Hi everyone. I do alot of things left handed. Since my dominant eye is the left eye, I play pool left hand, shoot shotguyn left handed, even box that way. I growup using my right hand to write, shoot basketball. The been switching know for a couple of months. I had a concern i think i was switch as a child( now 25) and was wondering the effect of switching to left handed would have on my brain hemsiphere?

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  45. I forgot to mention. When im talking on the phone I prefer the left ear because i have good understanding and conversation on the left side. When i'm talking on the right ear Im more serious. What does this mean?

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  46. I'm one of the fortunate/unfortunate ones (no idea if its a blessing) who was born left handed. However, I remember sometime around 4 years old, my mum forced me to switch over to being right handed as she heard that left handed people tend to get hurt/injured more often...
    The weirdest thing is that although I write with my right hand and do lots of stuff predominantly with my right hand, when it comes to unfamiliar actions or racket games (eg. badminton, tennis, etc..), I will still end up using my left hand again.
    Unfortunately the way that my mum corrected my handedness is kind of cruel and I still sometimes resent her for doing that. Back then, she took my left hand and dipped it into a red plastic mug of solution (I still have no idea what she used and she still refuse to tell me even up to now) which caused me a lot of pain and had to get my left hand bandaged for a week or so. During that period when I couldn't use my left hand, my mum started training me to use my right hand and from then on, she kept insisting that I rely on my right hand or she'll have to use the nasty solution again which really scared me into obedience.
    I'm in my twenties now but when I think back about it, I still feel a tinge of fear (probably due to the painful solution), sadness (like I lost something), and anger (for the pain that my mum put me through).

    P.S Although I don't condone what my mum did to me, I still love her a lot cause she has meant well for me.

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  47. Shawna, I'm very sorry to hear that you were abused as a child. Your sadness, fear and anger are all justified. You did lose something; not just your handedness, but also the trust that should have existed between mother and child. Sadly, it's not unusual for victims of abuse to excuse their abusers because they "meant well". It's ironic that your mother claimed to be trying to protect you from being injured, when in fact she was the one who injured you. In any case, I hope that now that you are an adult you will be able to continue moving forward in a positive way with your life.

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  48. I was left handed until the age of 11, until I switched to right handedness. It was entirely my choice. There was no peer pressure involved-the kids teased me for a lot of things, but left handedness was NOT one of them-and my parents and teachers actually tried to discourage the switch. In fact, I had to rebel a bit against the teachers and my parents to go through with the change to right handed.

    And it was one of the best things, I've ever done for myself. It really is. I personally DO NOT WANT to be a left-hander. End of story. I have no problem with it in other people, but I never felt that it was correct for me personally, and can't really articulate why it felt wrong.

    I do know that my grades, athletic abilities, and self image improved drastically upon becoming a right-hander. I have beautiful handwriting as a right handed person, but wrote chicken scratch left handed.

    Of course, I would never support forcing a child to switch hands, against their will.

    But who says switching isn't right for at least some people?

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  49. I wrote in a different section of this webpage. I forgot to add that I was switched like all of you from left to right. My right hand can draw and write ok to good. No big deal. (Not flaunting; lol trust me) I don't understand why most people talk of the switch as so traumatic or like their right hand totally sucks. Too dramatic. The only bad thing I see in it, is what life would be like "naturally," and that it would be nice to not have gotten such a good beating all those times. I guess you could get frustrated battling against yourself using wrong hand etc.

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  50. I was initially left handed at 2-3, but was forced by my parents to become right handed (they were chinese and thought it was the right thing to do.) Maybe I feel I've been put in a detrimental position, because I always feel extremely awkward and slow in social situations. Now that I'm in my 20's, and upon learning about that blog post, I try to use my left hand in place of my dominant one, and I've had seemingly good results -- I seem to react faster and act more socially aware. I want to know if there are also others out there who are also confused and in a similar situation to me.

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  51. My father was raised in a Roman Catholic family, and the Catholic church for some reason has an aversion to left handedness. When I was very young, he tried to switch me to writing with my right hand. As a result, I developed a very serious stutter. It took years of speech therapy to get rid of. Please, do not try to make your child switch dominant hands. It won't end well.

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  52. Hey

    It has been interesting to read your article and site here, as I, although originally right handed, have had to switch to doing several things left handed over the last few years due to a semi paralysis in my right hand. It has really helped me to empathise with those forced to write with their right hand (I have writing problems still with either hand :( ) and do simple tasks as a right handed person would do them. Although I have switched to this over the process of a few years, it still feels wierd at times. 3 and a half years ago I was forced to rely on my right hand alone (this is about 3 years into the switch - it's an ongoing learning curve) due to an operation, for about 10 days. It felt clumsy to me, and I hope that people get away from the mentality of forcing kids to use the hand that is "desireable in society". The need to change things around has taught me a lot.

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  53. Hello I was made to switch writing hands in Kindergarten in the early 70's. I was placed in a "special Ed" class where I would practice writing everyday with my right hand. My handwriting has never been good "chicken-scratch" at best. I recently returned to college and I can barely read my own notes from lecture at times. I am taking American sign language this semester and find that my left hand is much quicker and responsive for finger spelling. I can also write and sign at the same time which is cool. Everyone else has to put their pens down. Anyway I have always wondered what kind of effects being made to switch had on my development as a child.

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  54. Another note... also remember having to take speech classes for a year or so....I don't remember if I stuttered but I did have a lisp

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  55. I have been switched to right hand, and it's been a struggle my whole life. My thoughts are not fluid; I always have to think heavily to get my thoughts across or even to make decisions. Have decided to regain use of my left hand by using it more consistently.
    Please provide me with scientific results of the effects of switching hands on a young child. Surprisingly, my two older children are lefties, however my third is right handed.
    Thanks for all the above messages, I now realize I am not the only one who has been struggling throughout my life.

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  56. Glad to see I am not alone! My mother switched me to right hand when I was a baby, so I have no memory of being left hand dominant. Funny thing is, any new activity that I learned later in life I am left handed. Left handed in baseball, golf, tying a tie, etc. It is hard for me to shoot a rifle, because I am left-eye dominant, but shoot with my right hand(unfortunately all little kids pretend to shoot guns--so my right hand won that battle).

    My biggest problem is my sense of direction and spatial proportion are out of whack and I have a slight speech impediment. Could this be because I was switched? Or are these just common problems for right-brained, left-handed people?

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  57. I too was born a left hander.But my stupid ignorant parents and grandparents beat me quite badly and often
    held my left arm on a table and beat my left hand with either a belt or stick if ever I picked up a pencil with that hand.I was totally surprised to talk to others who were converted to right handers that we all suffer from very bad migraines and had dislexia or dizzy spells.A English celebrity Nicholas Parsons also mentions being converted and suffering the same as me.Funny thing I still bat and open jars the left handed way.

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  58. I think this article is full of crap. Not once does it mention getting information from scientists or physicians. I have a friend who when her child was young would take the crayon from the right hand and put it into the left...This is far from child abuse. The child is now an honor student and one of the top ACT scorers in the entire state they live in. Could it be possible that what hand you write with has nothing to do with anything? or that it could possibly work the other side of the brain that would normally be less worked? Who knows...you be the judge. Also, many psychologist believe that what hand you pick something up with or write with is not something that you are born with, it has to do with what hand people reach toward when they hand you an object. This would point towards your environment being the cause of it not your DNA....Its all nature vs nurture. See how you wish.

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  59. Dear ConcernedP - Some people may exaggerate some of the problems caused by switching hands. But many of these problems are real, especially for some individuals. And child abuse (beating, tying one hand behind the back, withholding food, etc.) is always traumatic, no matter what the reason. And I've never heard of any legitimate psychologists who believe that handedness is just based on how people hand you things. Now you are the one who is not citing any studies from scientists. In fact, there is now a lot of scientific evidence to indicate that handedness is genetic, at least part of the time. Read the book "A Left Hand Turn Around the World" by David Wolman. He talked to plenty of real scientists.

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  60. "ConcernedP" is full of it. So many people reporting the same kind of experience has a lot of truth, no matter what causes it. It's well documented that children have been beaten and abused all over the world for being left handed, and it still goes on in third world countries. Does he think that's okay? Then he claims to report on a friend's rather unscientific experience - maybe it's true, but if so I think there's probably more to it. If you could magically change someone's handedness just by handing things to a certain hand, wouldn't that be more likely to make us all ambidextrous, since we usually just get things handed to us randomly?

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  61. Comments are closed for this post.

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