What is W-Sitting?
You may have heard the term “w-sitting” before and not known exactly what it means. “W-sitting” refers to the “W” shape that a child’s legs look when he is sitting down with his legs bent out sideways . The resulting shape makes his legs look like a “W” and therefore, the term “W-sitting”.
What is the problem with “W sitting”?
When children are regularly sitting in the “W-sitting” position, typically do so because they are compensating for weaker core (belly) and back muscles. It feels easier for the child to sit upright because his legs are extended out wide and provide a wider base of support for him to sit upright on and as a result, less muscular effort is required.
The same principal applies to setting up a tent. To keep the tent upright and stabilized, you make the base wider by extending ropes and stakes out wide around the base of the tent. Children to regularly “w-sit” are essentially doing the same thing to help stabilize their body by widening their base of support, thus making it less work for them to sit upright. The wider the “W” shape, the less engaged the child’s back and core muscles are.
The problem though is that children need to engage their core and back muscles to become properly developed and strong. Developing strong core and back muscles as a child is essential for proper development, motor movements, and learning to occur. Working on decreasing your child’s time spent in the “w-sit” position is a start to developing stronger core and back muscles.
How can I decrease “W-sitting”?
The most effective way is to get your child moving more, especially by doing large movements that engage those core and back muscles like jumping, bicycling, running, swimming, rolling, dancing, yoga, and anything else the child enjoys doing that requires him to engage those belly and back muscles. Developing those muscles is a process which will take time and lots of activity.
Fortunately, kids intrinsically want to active as long as their activities are fun and interesting to them. Check out my list of gross motor activities to get some fun ideas of activities that will engage their core and back muscles.
What are some better seating positions?
1. Cross legged (“Criss-cross applesauce”) This will help promote a narrower base of support and more work for the child’s core and back muscles, as long as your child’s is upright
2. Tummy Time
You’ve probably heard that tummy time is important for babies, but what you may not know is that tummy time is still important for older kids too. It works on strengthening core, back, and upper body muscles. The child needs to be propped up on their elbows with their head up and off the floor for tummy time to be effective.
Therapist’s Tricks for Better Seating Positions
Therapist’s Trick #1- Put stickers or draw smiley faces on the inside of the child’s knee. Tell the child to sit crossed legged so that he can see the stickers or smiley face. If they are “w-sitting” they will not be able to see the stickers. You can also then use their favorite stickers as rewards, such as vsco girl stickers or superhero stickers for their own collections.
Therapist’s Trick #2- Visual aides such as felt squares or carpet squares on the floor will help give kids a visual idea of the space they need to stay in and will reinforce where they can place their legs.
Things to Consider…
If you child frequently sits in the “w” position, especially in a wide “w”, then she may complain that sitting cross legged or laying on her tummy is very difficult…..believe your child if she says this. It will be difficult for them at first and they really might not be able to sit in a different position for very long.
If this is the case, then set a goal to get the child more active each day, engaging the core and back muscles and be patient for the results to show. If your child has special needs and has low muscle tone, he still can benefit from participating in large motor movements (possibly modified movements), but may also require additional physical assistance when trying to sit.
Such progressive modifications can include:
- Sit behind the child, holding their legs in the cross-legged or “criss- cross applesauce” position while supporting the child’s body weight
- Once strength has built up, gradually reduce your assistance or the presence of props (such as pillows) until the child can sit upright without “w- sitting”
Leave a message and let me know how this has helped your child!
Shelley Mannell says
Here’s the thing though. If that child cross leg sits with a posterior pelvic tilt and a rib cage pitched down (or up), this position will not help develop core stability any more than w-sitting. Alignment, not just the position, is key to central stability.
Amy Smith says
Good point, Shelley. I could have been clearer in stating one should sit upright when criss-cross sitting to obtain maximal muscular strengthening.
Christine Egan says
In order to address the position of the pelvis when taking somebody out of a W sitting position and putting them into a cross like position I often have the parents use a move and sit cushion with their child in order to “right” the pelvis . Because of the low muscle tone and weekends course strength the child often does not have enough postural control to maintain the pelvis in an in an upright position. The move and sit cushion is a wedge which helps tilt the pelvis into a more upright and or anterior position. Works like a charm!
Another strategy I use is getting the child up off the floor and into a chair. I do this with all ages of children. For babies I use a booster chair as the floor chair because it is difficult to find a chair that is about 4 to 6 inches off the floor. Often I use hip helpers to align they fevers under the pelvis using forward weight shift thing they are learning how to load the fetid legs in alignment .
Amy Smith says
Great additional info– Thank you Christine!
Christine Egan says
Used dictation for this comment, so please excuse the errors! Hopefully, this makes sense!
I sat and slept on by stomache in the “W” position. I have had a lifetime of pain from the age of 5. I recently went to a well aclaimed Orthopedic specialist and surgeon where we discovered that cause of all my pain was from sitting in the “W” for such long stretch of time that my legs began growing in a curved shape to accomindate. My knees will also need to be replaced in the future because the inside of my knee is wearing out faster than my outside of my knee. Now because my parent didnt know any better I am 34 and can only stand, or walk, for 1 hour before I begin to have dibilitating pain. My plead is PLEASE help you children sit correctly NOW. So they can lead a normal life without pain.
Amy Smith says
Wow… I”m so sorry to hear this. Thank you so much for sharing!
Moving through rotation is also a key factor in developing better postural control and core stability. Side sitting to either side brings in diagonal abdominals and better dissociation of trunk on pelvis on hips and transition of movement between crawl / kneeling to sitting .
Hip helpers early on with babies with low muscle tone can encourage a narrower base of support and thus other strategies to find balance, mobility and stability which increase core strength and co-ordination! But this does needs hands on assistance and support for a while ! But if you develop that rotationary component early under guidance of physio, then the quality of other movements later will be much better.and avoid the need to revert to w sitting as Default strategy.
Amy Smith says
Thanks Dianne- Great explanation!