What’s So Wrong With W-Sitting?
What is W-Sitting?
Have you ever seen your child, or a friend’s child, sit with their legs out to the sides? Often times, children will sit and play with their knees together, bottom on the floor, and feet out to both sides. Their legs form a “W” shape when looking at the child from the front. Many children sit in this position, and it is even considered normal when children are young (under age 2). However, if it becomes a preferred or habitual position continuing after their 2nd birthday, it can affect a child’s overall development.
Why is W-Sitting Harmful?
W-sitting increases a child’s base of support which prevents a child from developing the proper core strength (strong tummy muscles) and balance to develop certain gross motor skills such as jumping and running. In this position, children are more comfortable and don’t have to work as hard to hold their trunks upright. Instead, they are spreading their lower limbs out over a wider base of support, relying on their joint structures, and not their muscles, to hold them up to play. It inhibits core strength and prevents trunk rotation. It can also lead to tightness in the muscles of the legs, hips, and ankles as well as possible hip dislocation. In turn, this can cause children to walk with their toes turned in (“pigeon-toed”) also causing them to trip and lose their balance more frequently. This position can also hinder righting reactions, the body’s response to maintain the correct orientation of the head and body with respect to vertical. W-sitting can also cause children to have a difficult time sitting in a chair at a desk without using their hands for support. This prevents the child from being able to use both hands to play with a toy or perform age-appropriate hand writing tasks.
How to Prevent W-Sitting?
The most effective way is to prevent it from being a habit in the first place. If you notice your child sitting in a W-sitting position, say “fix your legs” and show them an alternative way to sit, preferably “criss-cross applesauce”.
If a child is unable to sit in this position independently, let them rest their back against the couch or a chair. Side-sitting and long sitting (with feet forward and back supported) is another great alternative if sitting with knees out is too difficult.
You can also try placing a band or belt around the child’s ankles when they are playing on the floor in order to make it impossible for them to assume the W-sit position. To build more core strength, encourage your child’s hips and knees to be at a 90 degree position when sitting in a chair. If sitting in a larger chair, place a stool underneath their feet to help obtain this position.
It is important to be consistent when attempting to break the W-sitting habit. Feel free to share this information with grandparents and daycare providers in order to provide frequent follow through with cueing and redirecting your child into safer positions. Also, check out this great article for more information: http://embraceyourchaos.com/2013/02/whats-the-big-deal-about-w-sitting/
If you are still having difficulties keeping your child out of this habitual position, please talk with your PTC physical therapist. Our physical therapists will come up with more ideas and exercises tailored to meet each individual child’s needs to best improve their posture and alignment.
Amanda Pueppke, PT, DPT