What's the deal with W-Sitting?
What is W-sitting?
W-sitting occurs when the child’s bottom, knees, and feet are all touching the ground while sitting, with the feet resting outside the knees squished in together in the middle. As you stand above and look down over your child, this positioning resembles the letter “W”. Babies and toddlers will utilize a variety of different sitting positions on the floor during play as they learn to negotiate and maneuver within their environment. It is fine if the child simply moves through this W-sit position, but it is not beneficial for them to sustain this position.
Why do kids W-sit?
W sitting provides a wider, more stabilized base of support for the child to play. If your child is already predisposed to insufficient trunk strength, low muscle tone or joint laxity, then this is usually the go-to position. This position naturally requires less postural control and rotation of the torso, which is easier and saves more energy during play.
When is-sitting a problem?
We frequently hear “oh, they will grow out of it,” but we don't always find this to be true. If a child moves through this position and utilizes it as one of a variety of play positions, this perspective is likely true. For those who prefer the position, it will quickly become a habit (because it's easier!). Just because a child "can" get into this position doesn’t always mean it is the best position for their developing bodies (note: this also applies to that rare adult who can still get into the position). Extended use of this position can cause long-term impacts.
Ligaments, which are responsible for the integrity of the joint, are being put on stretch when W-sitting. And ligaments are not meant to be stretched! In physical therapy, we frequently see this position lead to orthopedic conditions, gross motor delays, and muscle weakness in the back, hips and legs. It can create shorter and tighter leg muscles, increase risk of hip dislocation and cause joint pain later in life. It can lock the trunk into one position which makes upper body rotation more difficult and bilateral coordination tasks more challenging. Weight shifting side-to-side also becomes difficult, which effects balance reactions and body coordination down the line, and can delay core muscle development due to lack of core activation required in the position.
What to encourage instead?
Mix it up! Children should play and sit in a wide variety of positions. These include straight leg sit, side sitting with legs bent to the side, lying on their stomach, criss cross, squatting, bench sitting or in a chair at a table top surface and kneeling.
Because you are working to break a habit, using consisten verbal cueing can also be helpful (ie. “criss cross applesauce”). Make sure everyone in your child’s life is working with the same cues to build consistency.
Work on building core strength so your child will have the strength needed to maintain more appropriate positions. Yoga is a great option! Yoga provides many benefits, including core strengthening, hip stretching, balance, coordination, and body awareness.
If you find that the W-sit is a preferred position for your child, seek out help from a physical therapist or occupational therapist! We can help develop strategies to decrease W-sitting and increase postural strength and awareness to prevent future trouble down the road.