What's Wrong With W-Sitting?
A Paediatric Physical Therapist Explores W-Sitting
Each time I walk into a classroom, I can find at least 3 children who are on the floor in the W-Sitting position…and they kind of remind me of melting snowman. Their legs are wide around their bottoms, their trunk posture is often droopy and they aren’t able to move their arms outside of their base of support to play. I am constantly saying “fix your legs” or “NO “W” SITTING!”. What’s so wrong with W-sitting? Let’s explore.
W-sitting looks like this: a child sits on the floor, their bottoms are between their legs, and their knees are bent with their legs rotated away from the body – if you stand above them and look down, it looks like their legs are forming a “W”. All children have the potential to begin the W-sitting habit. In this position, kids’ base of support is wider and their center of gravity is lower allowing for increased stability through their hips and trunk. It’s a convenient position for play because they do not have to work on keeping their balance while also concentrating on toys.
W-sitting is problematic for the following reasons: -In this position, a child cannot achieve active trunk rotation and cannot shift their weight over each side making it difficult to reach toys that are outside their immediate reach. It is so important for kids to be able to weightshift and rotate in order to develop adequate balance reactions (think of the ability to catch their fall when they are running) and for developing the ability to cross midline (very important for writing). Bilateral coordination (the ability to effectively use both sides of the body together) is delayed as a result. Every motor skill a child develops is a product of developing the milestone before. So, if a child has difficulty developing bilateral coordination, he may then demonstrate delays in skills such as developing hand dominance, skipping, throwing, kicking, etc.
W-sitting causes the hip and leg muscles to become shortened and tight which may lead to “pigeon toed” walking and could increase chance of back or pelvis pain as they grow. One study also suggests that W-sitting as a preschooler may increase the likelihood of a child becoming flat footed in both feet (European Journal of Pediatrics, Chen KC, 2010)*.
If a child is frequently in a W-sitting position, core strength may become an issue, which may lead to poor posture, delayed developmental skills, and overcompensation of other muscle groups. If your child is a W-sitter, there are a few things you can do to help them correct their sitting. First and foremost, encourage other ways to sit on the floor. Side sitting (to either side), long sitting (legs out in front), pretzel sitting, or sitting on a low bench or stool. Trust me, it will get redundant to correct this if it has become a bad habit, but it is worth it in the long run! Consistency is important! If you find that your child has difficulty maintaining any other position than W-sitting, it may be worthwhile to seek the advice of a physical therapist for suggestions on how to correct their position and for treatment of any underlying strength deficits or muscle tightening that has resulted. Ideally, you want to avoid the development of this habit. Keep your children sitting tall, strong, and proud like Frosty the Snowman and avoid the droopy look of a snowman that saw too much sun!
Check out our Core Strengthening Activities for Kids and our round-up of Great Toys for Core Strengthening to give an extra boost with developing the muscles of the trunk!