While developing motor skills, play skills, and independence, children move and change their body’s position all the time. One of the many positions you may find your child sitting in is a W-sit position, which is often referred to as “W-sitting”. This position was awarded its name because it involves a child bending their legs at the knees and spreading out from their hips to make a W shape. While many typically developing children move through this position from time to time during play, excessive use of this position is strongly discouraged and can result in challenges further down the track. Why do children W-sit? W-sitting provides a child with a wide base of support through added trunk and hip stability. When seated in a W-sit position, children do not need to rely on any trunk rotation or weight bearing reactions, which is why many children revert to it as the easiest seating position during play! In this position, children are able to move their arms and their trunk form a stable base without having to worry about maintaining balance. So, why the W-sit warning then? There are a few reasons we strongly recommend you help your little one find an alternative seating position. Firstly, it can hurt their hip joints. W-sitting can increase the risk of hip issues as it places excessive strain on the joints and can even cause hip dislocation. Secondly, it can aggravate muscle tightness. W-sitting contributes to added tension in hip adductors, internal rotators, and hamstrings. If a child is prone to tightness (often toe walkers are!) then this is another reason to avoid this eating position. Thirdly, it can delay their motor development. W-sitting results in a “fixed” position in a child’s trunk where they are not able to rotate their trunk or laterally shift their body. This severely restricts a child’s opportunities to develop the ability to cross their body’s midline. It is important children find seating positions which afford them opportunities for midline crossing, weight shifting and trunk rotation as these skills are essential for playing on the playground, writing, and developing hand dominance.
How do we stop the W-sit? Like all motor habits, they are powerful. This is both a good thing and a challenging thing! Prevent your child from developing a W-sit habit by encouraging alternatives early on! If your child is already in a habit of sitting in a W-sit position, here are a few suggestions to break the habit and help your child form a new one. Verbally remind your child to “fix their legs” when you see them sitting in a W-sit. Offer your child a small stool or chair as an alternative. Physically or verbally prompt them to sit in a different position. The recommended seating positions are legs crossed, legs out in front or both legs to the side. If your child is frequently reverting to a W-sit position, it may be indicative of other challenges and it’s likely you’ll need some support forming new habits.
Contact your local Occupational Therapist or children’s health centre in Melbourne for further assessment and an individualised intervention plan.
Dr Raj Khillan