Does your child sit on the floor with their legs rotated out to the sides, feet pointing in front of them? Is this their preferred pattern of sitting on the floor? Is it, in fact, the only position your really ever see them use on the floor? Well then, you have yourself a W-sitter. And it might not be the death knell to development that you may have been led to believe. But here is why it can affect your child’s walking and sitting, and here are some easy ways to address this issue.
“W” sitting is not an abnormal sitting pattern. Let me repeat and refine that: it is not abnormal for young children to sit in that position at times throughout the day. It is a very stable position that allows them to reach forward for toys placed directly in front of them. If your child uses a variety of sitting patterns, and you have no indication from anyone that they have issues with strength or stability, relax.
Therapists get concerned when three things happen: your child uses only this position when floor sitting, she isn’t comfortable or stable in any other position so that even if you help her sit another way, she pops out of it and reverts to “W” sitting or falls over, and she also has either low muscle tone or weakness in her hip and trunk muscles. I am not going to delve into the difference between muscle tone and muscle strength, and kids who “W” sit can absolutely have issues with both. But if your child has that triple play (preference, instability/discomfort, and tone/strength issues) then you should take action to reduce “W”-sitting.
Here is the reason why: This position will create an imbalance in hip muscle strength, bias your child’s movement patterns in ways that actually weaken their core musculature, and over-stretch the non-elastic ligaments that support the spine and hip. “W” sitting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more this pattern is used, the less control your child has for strong, dynamic and balanced trunk and hip control. Therapy can do a great job of helping your child build the strength and control to use a wider range of sitting and movement patterns. This is what you can do:
- Pay attention to how they sit, and offer alternatives. Sitting on a bench or chair that is well-proportioned for them is a good alternative. This means that you have to offer a young child a table and a chair that allows them to place their entire foot flat on the floor while sitting, and reach objects on a table with ease. Big-box stores do not sell sets that fit children under 3 unless your child is at the top of the height curve. Look around for wooden sets that you can make shorter, take a look at the sites that sell Montessori sets or school supply sets. Don’t let the price tags frighten you: these things sell fast on ebay or craigslist. When your child is 4 or 5, go out and buy the bigger set.
- Try not sitting. Have them stand at a table, and easel, or use toys that stick to the wall or another vertical surface for play. A child can lie on their stomach or even try hands-and knees play. Use high kneeling at a table ( child kneels on knees but hips aren’t touching their bottom, their upper body is straight up). Your PT will thank me.
- This is an extra credit question: Why would you ask them to lie on their back and play? Answer: They engage their core more fully, and their legs are likely to either be planted flat on the floor or raised up in the air in play. Kick/catch a balloon or something equally silly.
- Children love to be seen as more mature. Tell them that since they are growing up,these new positions are for big kids and grown-ups, and since babies aren’t strong, that is why they prefer to “W” sit. That should motivate them to give these a try!
“Children love to be seen as more mature. Tell them that W-sitting is for babies, and the other positions are for big kids and grown-ups. That should impress them!”
It’s not actually my experience that being age-shamed has great results. Um, except that I learned to distrust and stay away from people who infantilized me.
Excellent comment! I haven’t met any parents that would interpret this as a shaming technique, only a way to lovingly capitalizing on a child’s natural desire to grow. But I can see that a frustrated parent could use it to shame a child. Let’s hope those days are over.