Happy Left-handers Day

When I first read this on my newsfeed, I chuckled a little. Then I realized that in America we have a day dedicated to almost everything. From ‘Fruitcake Toss Day’ to ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’ (no, I’m not making these up), we tend to celebrate inane things. Celebrations for the first time a toddler uses the toilet successfully to the time a senior citizen decides to “celebrate their life”,  have become commonplace.  Absurdities aside, in a country that celebrates tax day and ‘be late for something’ day, why wouldn’t something as unique and different as being a left hander be celebrated? So, Happy Left Handers day! But let’s think about that for a minute: what does it actually mean? It’s a day that we recognize that some people are unlike us. It’s interesting that we have to call this to attention. As a mom of a left-hander, I didn’t realize all these little but important differences and the role they play in parenting a left hander.

Growing up, I didn’t encounter many left handed people in my close circle of family and friends. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because according to a report by Scientific American, only about 10% of the people in the world are left handed. I knew of left handed people and never gave them much thought. When my husband and I were blessed with our first child, we were ecstatic of course, and tickled at the fact that we found him to be so dominantly left handed at such a young age. Neither of us are left handed nor do we have anyone who is left handed in our immediate families. We thought it to be cute when he reached for his toy with his left hand a few months after he was born, or when he kicked with his left leg. All of these showed us signs of him being dominantly left handed as early as 6 months old. Once again, we didn’t think much of it other than, “we have a unique child”.

Well this uniqueness is true and it didn’t occur to us then that this left handed child will have a lot of adjusting to do in this world. We never thought about how difficult is must be to see a world that is designed to be the very opposite of how you do things. We, right handed parents, tend to teach right handed ways of dressing (ever checked a zipper), tying shoelaces, writing and even grooming ourselves. What we tend to forget is that this means our child has to process directions that we give first and then translate it to make sense for themselves before even applying it in action.

Directionality and laterality are both acquired in the preschool years and it comes as no surprise (now looking backward) that our first born took much longer than our other children to figure out his left hand from his right. As Muslims, this differentiation is important, not only for the social aspects of greetings, but for prayer (tashahud is always done with the right index finger) and istinjah (always with the left) and there is the Sunnah of eating with our right hands. Yet we forget to be patient with our young learners sometimes.

Let me share with you what we’ve learned over these years with raising a left-hander, so that inshaAllah if you are blessed with a left handed child and are not left handed yourself, you can find some benefit from our experiences.

First of all, we have to move away from the notion that being left handed is somehow evil, bad or ‘ayb’ (ill).  Yes, people in the past forcibly changed left-handers to right and they survived, but is that what we really want to do? Merely survive? Left handed people are known to be more creative, spatial thinkers and if we do our job right, we can cultivate these amazing logical qualities they already possess.

Next, find resources and supplies that alleviate stress out of their lives. They have enough going on that they need to figure out- from door knobs to buttons to three ring binders! Help a left hander sit at the end of the table where he won’t be knocking elbows with siblings over meals. Buy scissors or can openers specifically designed for left handed people to make these simple tasks easy and fast for them. Have your left hander use flip notepads over spiral bound notebooks so they can write with ease. When teaching cursive writing, buy a left handed cursive writing workbook. We may not realize, but the formation of letters and numbers is also different with left handers. Not only is this easy for legibility and speed, but it will help your left hander not develop wrist and arm problems later on. The day I bought my left hander his left handed cursive book (which I stumbled upon accidentally) was the day that revolutionized our homeschooling. Speed, efficiency and legibility all fell into place and we could move on to real learning! If your left hander is using a computer with a mouse, place it on the left of the keyboard or get a wireless one so it can get moved around with ease.

Don’t force your way of doing things on a left-hander. They cannot simply follow your steps. Never label them as clumsy, lazy or careless. Children learn to live up to the labels they hear. They also start believing these labels and becoming them. Understand that your child has to do double the work that you do in order to “do like you do”. They will stir anti-clock wise and they will peel in the opposite direction. If you have a daughter who ties hijab, she will probably tie her hair or hijab opposite to yours!  Let them find their way of doing things- its easier and stress free for both of you. When teaching a young left hander to toe shoe laces, or dress themselves, it is a good idea for you to teach in front of a mirror, so they can see what it looks like for them rather than try to translate your movements to make sense for them.

Whatever you do in trying to help your left hander, never try to change their dominant hand orientation. Their brains are wired differently and you cannot change that! Left handers tend to have higher IQ’s and think differently- be open to growth and change yourselves, rather than try to change them. Teach with gentleness, love and patience the things that we must do with a respective hand (for the sake of the deen or to follow the Sunnah) but never punish them for it. I know of a friend who used to sing “Muslims eat with their right hands” whenever her young left handed daughter would reach for food with her left at the dinner table. This gentle reminder was good enough to teach and train her left hander the adab and Sunnah.

So, Happy Left Handers Day! Perhaps this is why we need a national left handers day; to educate the lucky parents of these creative, artistic ones that their special children are always in their right minds!