Why Some Kids Have Trouble Learning Left From Right
At a Glance
Many kids know “left” from “right” by age 7 or 8.
For a surprising number of people, telling left from right never becomes second nature.
There are ways to help kids develop a better sense of left and right.
Many kids have a firm grasp of “left” and “right” by age 7 or 8. But for a surprising number of people, telling left from right never becomes second nature. A study of young adults found 1 in 4 still struggle with left and right.
“Left-right confusion” can affect people in many ways. Here are some examples.
Not being sure which side of the field to focus on when the coach says to play “left midfielder”
Trouble following directions like “Turn right at the stop sign.” (Left-right confusion that lasts into the teen or adult years can make it harder to drive safely.)
Trouble learning or not wanting to take part in popular line dances (like the Cha Cha Slide or the Electric Slide)
Left, Right, and the Brain
How people learn left from right isn’t well understood. But it likely involves how the brain makes sense of where objects are in space. Can I walk under that branch without bumping my head?
This type of thinking is called visual-spatial processing. Our brains use it for everything from reading a map to reading facial expressions. Is that a smile or a smirk?
Visual-spatial trouble may make it harder to develop a sense of left and right. Kids with left-right confusion may also take longer to develop a dominant hand.
Left-right confusion can exist on its own. But it’s more often found in people who learn and think differently. For example, many people with dyslexia have trouble telling left from right.
How to Help Kids Learn Left From Right
With some coaching and lots of practice, kids can develop a better sense of right and left. Here are a few strategies that can help:
Place kids’ hands, palm down, on a piece of paper. Their two thumbs should touch in the middle. With a crayon, trace down their left index finger and across their left thumb to create a capital “L.” Explain that when they need to figure out which side is left, they can hold their hands out in that same manner and see where the “L” is. (This may not work for kids who can’t see that the “L” on their right hand is backwards.)
Choose which wrist to wear a bracelet or rubber band on. If you agree it will be on the left wrist, kids will see the bracelet and know that’s their left side.
For kids who show dominance in one hand, always start activities with that hand and announce what side that is. For example, “Take your right hand and use it to start dribbling the basketball.”
Left-right confusion can affect kids in school and in daily life.
Some kids with left-right confusion take longer to develop a dominant hand.
With some coaching and lots of practice, most kids can develop a better sense of left and right.