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Five-Year-Old Writes Backwards
Q: My five-year-old granddaughter, when trying her skills at writing, usually starts on the right side of the paper rather that the left. About half of the time she mixes her Bs and Ds and makes her S backwards. She has been in a structured day care and is getting ready for kindergarten this fall. Any need for concern, especially about dyslexia?
A: There is no need for concern if your granddaughter is otherwise well. It is completely normal for children to write "backwards" at this age. In addition to letter and number reversals, some children will truly write in mirror image: going from right to left with all the letters reversed. There is nothing wrong with this. The brain does not completely form the concept of left and right until somewhere between ages five and eight. This means that almost all children will have persistent reversals when they first start writing.
You should definitely not stop your granddaughter from writing in this way, or even make her correct it. If she asks if it is correct, you should point out the errors, but don't make a big deal of it. The more that children write, the easier it becomes for them. You don't want to limit your granddaughter's creativity by constantly pointing out what is wrong. When she learned to walk, you wouldn't have dreamed of telling her to stop because she couldn't do it properly, or of trying to correct her and give her lessons. Similarly, with writing, children should be free to practice and make multiple mistakes without corrections or limitations. By first grade, teachers will start asking children to correct their reversals, and by the end of second grade almost all children have stopped doing it completely.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.