W does not always mean winner. W-sitting is when a child is sitting with their bum on the floor, with their legs and knees in front, splayed out to the sides. If you were to stand over the child, their body would look like a W. This positioning gets a lot of attention from therapists, teachers, and parents, but what do we really know about it?
Why do Kids W-Sit?
Kids w-sit for a few reasons, but mostly, it is because it feels good to them. It gives them a large base of support and keeps their centre of gravity low. Basically, it’s a more stable position. They have increased contact with the floor, so they don’t have to work as hard to engage the muscles of their core.
Kids who spend a lot of time in this rubber-defying position typically have weakness in their core muscles and poor balance skills. W-sitting is also seen in children with underlying developmental concerns - low tone, general muscles weakness, motor coordination deficits, and kiddos with sensory differences.
What’s The Deal with W-Sitting?
Sometimes when I’m coaching parents about the dreaded w-sit, the adult will say, “I still sit like that. It’s not a big deal.” Here’s the thing - we aren’t typically worried if children are using this position rarely, or even occasionally. Kids will move in and out of the position during play, and that’s okay. The concern begins when kiddos are relying on w-sitting whenever they are on the floor. Kids that are really committed to making me feel uncomfortable will even sit like this when they are on a chair or bench! Therapists also don’t start to worry until after the age of two; kids younger than this tend to be really bendy (technical term).
Here are some of the reasons that pediatric therapists recommend correcting w-sitting:
Number One: When we sit like this, there is decreased activation of core muscles . The core is much more than just a nice area to show off at the beach. It includes the muscles of our pelvic floor (no accidents on a trampoline), and the muscles we use to keep our body still. We need a strong core to be able to use our arms and legs effectively.
Number Two: W-sitting promotes poor posture. It limits our ability to rotate side to
side and effectively play and interact with our world.
Number Three: It can place more stress on the joints. This can even lead to back or hip pain as an adult. All of the tension is put on the joints, instead of the muscles, to stay upright.
Number Four: It can lead to shortened muscles of the back of the legs and hips. In some instances, people will connect w-sitting to having the legs and feet rotate inwards. This often increases clumsiness and instability when walking and running.
Number Five: Delayed fine motor development! OT’s and elementary school teachers around the globe are cringing. That decreased trunk rotation can lead to delays in higher level fine motor development; the type where you use two hands, as in beading, doing up your jacket, and opening containers. Kiddos who w-sit regularly are also less likely to develop hand dominance, since it is very easy to accomplish tasks with either hand when you’re in such a stable position.
What to Do?
The good news is, there are lots of alternative positions that kiddos can sit in while they read books, play with toys, and watch PJ Masks. Cue or prompt your child to “please adjust your legs.” Use that parent-super-power-stare for good, not evil!
A few options:
High Kneel/Low Kneel
Lie on Your Belly
I also like to give kiddos who w-sit a pillow or a small stool to sit on; this props up their ‘sit bones’ and makes it more likely that they won’t ninja back into their coveted W.
Since one of the main causes of w-sitting is a weak core, OTs and PTs will almost always begin an intervention that involves core strengthening. This goes beyond sweat bands and sit-ups - we’re talking bum scoot races and elephant pushes. Check back for future posts with ideas to strengthen that core!
Still need some direction? Ask an OT!