W – sitting is a really controversial topic with little evidence to say it’s good or bad for children who have no problems with their tone or development. There are some things to be aware of though and then you can make your own mind up about how you’d like to deal with it (or not!)
For kids who have cerebral palsy however, it’s something we really want to try and avoid although it’s often the position they prefer!
W-sitting is never really ok as a prolonged sitting position for anybody. The reasons for why it’s such a ‘no – no’ is because the position
- Puts unnatural stresses on the child’s hips, knees and feet
- Tightens and shortens main muscles in the legs
- Compromises development and use of core muscles
- Can cause developmental delay
For a more in-depth explanation of these areas of concern, please read w-sitting:4 reasons to avoid it .
What is w-sitting?
W – sitting, as the name suggests, is when somebody sits on the floor and their legs make the shape of a W. The bottom is on the floor with knees bent, hips rotated and feet on either side of the bottom.
Is it ever ok?
Most children will move into and out of a w-sitting position while playing. This is fine as long as it’s used as part of a movement and not a position that the child stays in to play, watch TV or anything else.
Why do some children prefer W-sitting?
W-sitting is often the preferred sitting position for children with low muscle tone, joint hypermobility, decreased balance or weak tummy and back muscles.
W-sitting is a much easier position to play in than other positions because it provides the child with a large, stable base of support and doesn’t take much muscle strength or control to maintain, meaning that the child is able to use their hands to play without losing their balance.
How should my child sit instead?
Better ways of sitting are cross-legged, long – sitting with their legs straight out in front of them or side sitting which is when both legs are bent to either side. If they really won’t stop w-sitting, it would be better for them to get up off of the floor to sit on achair or stand to play at a table or higher surface.
If your child tends to W-sit, these alternative sitting positions may be a bit difficult and challenging at first but it is important to persevere. This is because w-sitting compromises development of the tummy muscles and they will be weak, possibly making future activities difficult for your child.
When playing in these better sitting positions, children develop strength and control of the muscles in their tummy and back and start using rotation (in therapy speak: they develop core strength and trunk control).
Trunk rotation is necessary for reaching across the body (crossing the midline) and developing independent use of both sides of the body (bilateral integration). These skills are necessary for many future abilities including crawling, walking, using hands for fine motor activities and to develop hand dominance.
How can I stop my child from w-sitting?
As with everything, prevention is better than cure! Try to discourage w- sitting as soon as you notice it. Take a look at this video of my 8 month old daughter w – sitting and how I physically move her legs into a better position.
Don’t worry if your child is much older than this and still w-sitting. It is still really important to get them to sit in a different way.
It is important to persevere and remind your child whenever they are in w-sitting to ‘sit differently’ or ‘change your legs’ etc. In Wales, we say ‘sit tidy’! I say ‘legs’ to my daughter as I help her to straighten her legs out in front of her. Use any phrase that works for you, just use it consistently.
Initially you may need to verbally remind your child as well as physically change their position, using your hands to show your child a better way to sit until they are able to change positions themselves.
Depending on the reason a child is preferring to w-sit, there may be certain strengthening activities that will help.