The Problem With W-Sitting

The Problem With W-Sitting

This year we have been invited to my daughter’s school for an unprecedented number of recitals, art nights and class celebrations. It is my natural tendency to people watch. I suppose it is an occupational hazard. The parents occupy the chairs set to the back of the gym, glowing with pride. In front, the kids sit, waiting anxiously for their turn to demonstrate their many talents. They squirm and twitch as kids do, fighting their innate desire to get up and move.

Then my eyes are drawn to one child. They aren’t sitting criss-cross on their bottom like the others, but rather in an awkward W-sit. Then I spot another child in a W-sit, then another and another...

I try not to cringe. I see these “W-sitters” so often (too often) in my office. They are the clumsy kids; the kids with unexplained knee pain; and teenagers with ongoing back pain, just to name a few.

If you are not familiar with the W-sit, it is the position where a child forms a “W” with their knees and legs, by placing their bottom on the floor and their feet spread out to each side from the knee.

W-sitting is very common. While playing on the floor or ground, it is normal for children to move in and out of this position. However, many problems can develop when children are in this position for extended periods of time (err...like a two-hour school assembly.)

  • W-sitting can cause tightening of the hip joint and muscles of the leg. This can, in turn, affect coordination, balance, and the normal development of gross motor skills.
  • W-sitting can increase a child’s risk of hip dislocation.
  • W-sitting does not allow children to rotate their upper body. This prevents children from performing tasks that involve both hands together or moving their arm across their body to the opposite side, ultimately affecting their coordination. There is an argument that this can go as far as affecting school work, especially writing skills!
  • W-sitting prevents children from moving their body weight from side to side. This is fundamental in the development of proper balance, and performing tasks such as running and jumping.
  • W-sitting prevents children from developing strong core muscles. Strong core muscles (the muscles of your pelvis, back and stomach) are required for climbing, running and jumping. Strong core muscles help prevent injuries, poor posture and back pain.

How do you prevent your child from W-sitting?

In order to prevent your child from W-sitting, try suggesting other sitting positions, such as:

  • Sitting on a bench/chair
  • Squatting
  • Kneeling
  • Long sitting (on the bottom, with legs straight out)
  • Criss-cross sitting (legs bent and crossed in front)
  • Ring sitting (legs are not completely bent in front)

These positions allow your child to:

  • use both hands at the same time on both sides of the body,
  • shift their weight from side to side more easily,
  • and develop strong core muscles.

In the beginning, your child may be resistant to changing their sitting habits. Babies and toddlers can be assisted into one of the more favourable positions described above. Preschoolers and school-aged children can be given reminders, such as “Would you rather sit like this or this?” along with demonstrations of the appropriate sitting positions.

It’s important to avoid negative remarks such as “Don’t sit like that!” Instead, use positive verbal cues such as “fix your feet”, “fix your legs” or “fix your sitting”.

W-sitting is not easy to correct. Be proactive as soon as you see your child sitting in this position. Habits are difficult to break. For many children, this position feels more stable than other positions. This is especially true of children who weak core muscles. Be persistent with correction and verbal cues. It will take some work on your part in the beginning, but the long-term benefits of avoiding W-sitting are tremendous.

If you have concerns about your child’s development, consult a chiropractor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist with the necessary training and experience.

As always, feel free to contact me with your questions and/or comments!

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