Mind Your p’s & q’s: When Your Child Reverses Letters

My seven year old still reverses a lot of letters when he writes.  Any suggestions on how I can work with him?

 Letter reversals are surprisingly common through age 7.  After that age, this could be an indication of a learning disability such as dyslexia.  Letters that are similar such as b, d, p, and q are some of the most common errors.  However in more extreme cases, mirror writing (writing backward from right to left) is also a problem for young writers.  Here are a few hints to help your child conquer those difficult letters at home.

 1)  Alternate different implements to write with including pencils, pens, markers, sandpaper letters, and tracing with a wet paint brush over a chalkboard.

 2)  Use shaving cream, pudding and sand to finger-paint the letters for practice.

 3)  Use pre-printed work sheets with directional arrows when tracing over a letter or an alphabet strip as a visual reference.

 4)  Make up phrases to remember direction such as, “letter b is a bat (the stick) and ball (the circle),” or “b begins bed, d ends the word bed.”  You can find or make up little stories about the problem letters as a memory technique.

 Practice makes perfect.  There are many handwriting booklets and worksheets (such as those mentioned in paragraph 3 above) for sale in your local bookstore, or even for free online.

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11 Comments + Add Comment

  • Great post and it came at the perfect time for me. =)
    My son, 3 1/2 yrs, is all about writing right now. He is constantly writing, but sometimes reverses letters or numbers. I know it is developmental, but my question is do I correct him? If so, how often?

  • Maggie,
    As a first grade teacher, this is a topic I talk with parents about often. It is really quite common to see reversals at this age — not only in letters, but in numbers as well. Students will even reverse complete words. Reminding students of directionality is key. Playing games to have them find the incorrect letters and numbers is fun too. It is also important to have children learn to monitor their writing and know which letters/numbers give them the most trouble. When I child finishing writing something with reversals say, “I see 2 letters that need to be fixed (or are backwards), can you find them?” This puts ownership back in children’s hand while bringing their attention to the challenge positively. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for writing on this subject – this is very common, indeed. I’ve always wondered whether to correct it or not – especially when the child is really engrossed in the writing. I don’t want to disturb their creative process or affect their confidence in their writing abilities. However, your tips are helpful, and Cathy’s method of letting the child find it and fix it is also a great idea.

  • It’s good to see a lot of common sense, don’t panic advice; I particularly liked the one about letting the child keep ownership over the issue. I was a mirror writer in kindergarten. The teacher had almost 50 years’ experience and told my mother to leave me alone. A year later, I was much better, and by 2nd grade the problem resolved itself. I have a vivid memory, and I can absolutely assure you that aggressive intervention would have backfired and impacted my development across the whole spectrum; I felt quite sure the rest of the world had it wrong, and I had it right.

    My brother, a year younger than me, got the same kindergarten teacher, had the exact same problem, and was left alone. A year later, a 3rd brother (by the way, we were all left-handed) had the same problem in kindergarten, but had a first-year teacher who went into a full-fledged panic, talking about him as a special-needs child. My mother told her to conference with her more experienced colleague down the hall, and that was the end of it.

  • When I began kindergarten I was left-handed. My teacher tried to “correct” me. So, I was right-handed at school and left-handed at home. All my letters were faced the correct way when I used my left hand, but when when I used my right hand everything was backwards. That went on for the full year I was in kindergarten which, needless to say was very stressful for me. Naturally, I am still left-handed. I heard that teachers no longer practice “hand switching”. Has anyone else experienced this in their childhood?

  • Straight to the point, and excellent advice I can use with my grandkids.

  • An excellent method for teaching handwriting that uses 8 beginning strokes. Cuts way down on letter reversal problems!

  • Awesome post. Thank you for the information.

  • My 6 year old daughter writes the letter P backwards about 9 times out of 10!!! Is there any sayings or songs or anything (like with the b and d) to go with the letter p? I have tried to think of something but am coming up blank!!

  • Maggie, it’s interesting to read your thoughts on letter reversals, but I teach 4th grade students and occasionally notice reversals in the writing of a few of them… What sorts of tactics and interventions do you suggest with “older” learners such as these for whom writing using shaving cream and sandpaper might come off as babyish? Thanks!

  • Thanks for sharing such ideas. I have been facing the very same problem with one of ,my group of students.
    After reading your post, I might become able to help them out.
    Once again, thanks.

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