What is W-Sitting?
Children adopt various positions that they prefer to sit and play in. One of the positions we see is called W-sitting. This is when a child sits with their bottom completely on the floor in between their legs, knees bent, legs turned out, and feet splayed out to the side. Their knees and thighs may be touching together or spread apart. If you were to look at the child from above, the child’s legs will resemble the shape of the letter ‘W’.
Why do children W-Sit?
For many children, this is their preferred or comfortable position, and they sit that way without even thinking about it. In this position, they are able to achieve a wider base of support and a lower center of gravity, which increases trunk stability, often they do so in order to compensate for weaknesses they may have in their hips and trunk. For other children tight hip muscles, or flexible joints, may be a cause and sometimes, it’s just habit. In this position the posture muscles of the trunk and core don’t need to work hard and often not at all!
The added stability of this position allows them to focus on play while requiring less strength to hold themselves upright, less control to maintain balance, and no worries about falling over! No wonder they do it!
When Should You Worry about W-Sitting?
Many parents are familiar with the phrase “W sitting” and have heard that it is “bad” for their child to sit in this position. You might be asking yourself, “When should I worry. When is it really a problem?”. The truth is that W-sitting by itself is not always a problem. In fact, when children use this position only rarely and don’t depend on it for support, it can often be no cause for alarm.
It’s normal for a child to move briefly in and out of W-sitting when playing or transitioning from one position to another. Problems arise when this is the preferred position your child adopts for floor play, and spends extended periods in this position.
The Problem with W-Sitting
Many health professionals believe this position may lead to orthopaedical conditions, gross motor delays and can create weakness in the back, hips and legs increasing the risk of the child’s hip and leg muscles becoming short and tight which can cause ‘pigeon-toed’ walking.
Relying on their joint structures, and not their muscles to hold them up, over time, undeveloped bones and joints are affected by the routine stress on the hip and legs. In this position, the muscles are not stabilizing the hip joints, which causes increased posterior pelvic tilt (the front of the pelvis rises and the back of the pelvis drops), causing the spine to form a c-curve rather than its natural s-shape, resulting in poor sitting posture, decreased core activation, reduced trunk rotation, and delayed motor development.
This posture fixes the upper torso in place, only allowing the child to play with toys that are in front of them. The child is unable to rotate, leading to decreased play involving crossing over the body’s midline. The child will usually reach for the object with whatever hand is closest instead of the dominant hand. All of these actions interfere with the development of bilateral integration and normal hand dominance resulting in poor progress with high-level fine motor tasks using two hands.
The child’s sense of balance can be slowed; this position limits a child’s need to weight shift on their bottom from side to side during play, resulting in decreased use of balance responses. This lack of activation causes a cycle of muscle weakness, resulting in difficulty integrating the left and right sides of the body, leading to decreased coordination.
It is important to recognize when your child is sitting in the W position and to correct it.