W-sitting is a way of sitting on the floor that is preferred by many children. When W-sitting, a child sits with his or her bottom on the ground, with both knees and the feet positioned outside of his or her hips. When viewed from above, the line of the legs and body appear to make a W shape. As a parent, you may have been told that this position is “bad” and that you should immediately have your child change sitting positions. It is perfectly normal for children to move in and out of a W position for brief periods of time as they play. However, there are negative effects associated with prolonged W sitting, particularly if it is your child’s primary sitting pattern.
Firstly, W-sitting can put unnecessary strain on a child’s hip joints. If a child has orthopedic issues or is prone to high muscle tone and tightness, excessive W sitting can further tighten the major muscle groups that allow for outward rotation of the legs. This can lead to problems with coordination, balance, and in the most severe cases, hip dislocation.
Many children sit in a W position because it widens their base of support. This is a very stable position that doesn’t require much weight-shifting or core engagement to stay upright. For this reason, it is often the preferred seating choice of children who are very flexible or have low muscle tone. Because this position is so stable, children do not use their core muscles much as they are playing, which limits the development of trunk strength. Developed core and trunk strength is necessary to reach the arms away from the body to participate in fine motor activities like writing, coloring, or using scissors. Children with poor trunk strength may fatigue easily and demonstrate more difficulty remaining seated upright at a desk as they grow older.
Additionally, W-sitting does not allow for much trunk rotation while playing. Trunk rotation helps children develop the ability to cross midline (reach their arms across their bodies), which is an essential skill for differentiating between and coordinating the two sides of the body. Because the W position is so stable, it is relatively easy for children to complete tasks with either hand when seated this way. This can delay the development of hand dominance. Therefore, excessive W-sitting can affect the core strength, postural control, and coordination necessary to develop precise fine motor skills, and should therefore be discouraged.
To help your child break the habit of prolonged W-sitting, you should try to anticipate when they are about to W-sit, and encourage a different position. Sitting in a “criss-cross” position or with the legs out in front of a child’s body promotes core and trunk development. Sitting with both legs to one side is also an appropriate position. If you find your child already seated in a W position, try giving them a verbal reminder to “fix your feet”, and help them move into a different position. You can also try letting them sit on a cushion or an inflatable disc as an alternative to sitting on the floor.
Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Pathways.org. (2017). What is W-sitting? Retrieved from https://pathways.org/blog/what-is-w-sitting/