By: Bridget Hobbs, PT, DPT
Many parents and teachers know that w-sitting is bad for a child’s development, but they might not know why. So, I am going to shed some light on what w-sitting is, what proper sitting positions look like and how best to encourage little ones to sit with correct posture. W-sitting is sitting with bottom on the floor, knees in front and legs splayed out to the side, making a “w” or “m” shape depending on which way you look at it.
When babies are learning to crawl and transition in and out of sitting, they often go into w-sitting momentarily, which is completely normal and fine. However, when a child sits in this position for longer periods of time, that is when you need to take action and help them to learn to correct their sitting posture.
Some children sit in a W because it is comfortable for them. Other children with low muscle tone or weak core strength w-sit because it gives them a wider base of support to help keep their sitting balance. This W-sitting position makes is difficult for a child to reach across midline and rotate their trunk which can lead to coordination and writing problems down the road. W-sitting can also have negative orthopedic ramifications. W-sitting puts strain on the knees and hips and can cause pain and tightness to these joints and muscles as well as to the back. It also can affect the child’s sitting posture as it makes it difficult to sit up straight which is important for developing strong trunk muscles. Children who have hip dysplasia also have a higher risk of hip dislocation if they w-sit.
How to Help Your Child Correct W-Sitting
Correct sitting postures include: tailor sitting (cross-legged sitting), long sitting (sitting with legs straight in front of you), or side sitting (legs to one side).
Tailor Sitting Long Sitting Side-Sitting
To encourage your child to sit cross-legged, try verbal cues such as “criss-cross applesause.” “pretzel sit”or “fix your legs.” Some children respond well to a simple tactile cue, such as a gentle tap to their knees. If your child needs more motivation, you can have them earn a sticker or a small treat for every time that you catch them sitting the correct way.
For pre-school and early grade school when children are often sitting on the floor, using cube chairs can be helpful for children that have a hard time sitting correctly. An added bonus is that these types of chairs help kids who are fidgety or wanting to move around more likely to stay put for story-time.
Proper sitting positions, such as tailor, long and side-sitting, help your child develop their core muscles by sitting up taller and enabling them to rotate across their body. They also encourage proper weight shifting to allow a child to reach for toys outside of their base of support and also let a child use both hands at the same time on one side of the body. If you are concerned about your child’s sitting posture, feel free to seek out a physical or occupational therapist at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for ideas and feedback on how to help your child play in different positions.