Is w-sitting during childhood a normal part of development or does it increase the risk of orthopedic issues later in life? You have probably heard the warnings about this.
No matter where and how you grew up, odds are you heard the following old wives’ tales from well-meaning adults. W-sitting has long been a topic of debate among parents, caregivers, and healthcare professionals. Some argue that it is a normal and harmless part of child development, while others believe that it may increase the risk of musculoskeletal problems and other health issues.
Perhaps you even passed them on to your own children and grandchildren:
- Don’t cross your eyes! If someone hits you, they’ll never uncross!
- Don’t make that terrible face! It could get stuck like that!
- Don’t chew on your hair! Little girls have choked and died that way!
In general, these kinds of dubious medical opinions have little basis in reality. (The last one? All too true.) However, another widely heard aphorism that is a little more ambiguous; it is somewhat exaggerated by the media and some medical professionals, but it is based on truth and good intentions:
Don’t sit in a w!
The purpose of this article is to explore the potential risks and benefits of w-sitting, and to provide information and guidance for parents and caregivers who may be concerned about their child’s sitting habits.
What is w-sitting?
W-sitting is a position in which a kids plop themselves on the floor, legs splayed to each side, with knees bent and angling forward. The child’s body weight is usually balanced on their buttocks, with their hands free to play or engage in other activities. If you were to observe your granddaughter in this position from above, you’d see her legs form the letter “w.” (Thus the name.)
W-sitting is most common in children between the ages of 2 and 4, although kids as young as eight months w-sit because it gives them a wide, steady base, making it easier to reach for toys. And in some cases older children and adults may also sit in this position.
Children may adopt a w-sitting posture when they are playing on the floor or sitting at a low table, and they may use this position for extended periods of time. A child is able to engage with the environment immediately in front of them, and also they don’t have to work as hard to concentrate on stabilizing themselves. Some children may prefer w-sitting to other positions, while others may use it only occasionally.
W-sitting is a normal and beneficial part of early child development and can help children develop important skills for more sophisticated movements. According to Joni Redlich, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Board-Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist at Kid PT in Somerset, New Jersey, “It’s all about variety.” Children who incorporate w-sitting into a variety of sitting positions, such as cross-legged and side sit, are using trunk rotation, using both hands together, and developing pelvic control that will provide stability in walking. Therefore, if you see your child w-sitting on occasion and using it in conjunction with other sitting positions, there is likely no cause for concern.
So, if you see your child w-sit on occasion, and she uses it in conjunction with other sitting positions, stand down. She’s most likely fine.
When w-sitting is cause of concern?
While w-sitting may be a normal and beneficial part of child development on occasion, extended periods of reliance on this position may cause problems with posture, movement, muscle tone, and even hand preference. According to Dr. Redlich, “Children who w-sit as their primary sitting position are the children who concern physical and occupational therapists.”
This is because the w-sitting position can limit crossing the midline (reaching across the body), trunk rotation, and the development of hip mobility and strength. It can also stress joints, such as the knees and hips, and increase tightness in the muscles. If you notice that your child never switches to other sitting positions, it may be worth discussing with their parents and considering an evaluation by a physical therapist.
For children with orthopedic impairments, such as cerebral palsy, w-sitting should be avoided at all times as it can cause muscle tightness and reinforce abnormal patterns of movement. In these cases, it is important to consult with a therapist for comfortable alternative sitting positions.
Of course, there are exceptions to these circumstances—situations when long-term w-sitting is common and comfortable for little ones. Some children, for instance, w-sit due to a specific leg condition called femoral anteversion (which also causes pigeon toes) that will correct itself over the years. “[It’s] an inward twisting of the femur,” says Dr. Randall Loder, pediatric orthopedic surgeon for Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “It’s natural for them to w-sit. In time, they will begin sitting in a criss-cross style when it becomes comfortable.”
At what age should a child stop w sitting?
There is no specific age at which a child should stop w-sitting. As with any behavior, it is important for children to have a balance of different activities and positions, and w-sitting should be just one of many ways that they explore and play. If a child continues to w-sit as their primary or exclusive sitting position beyond the age of 4 or 5, it may be worth discussing with their parents and considering an evaluation by a physical therapist.
The therapist can assess the child’s development and provide guidance on appropriate sitting positions and activities. However, it is important to keep in mind that every child is unique and will develop at their own pace, so it is best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
How To Break The Child’s W-Sitting Position
If you are concerned about your child’s w-sitting habits and would like to encourage them to sit in other positions, there are a few strategies you can try:
- Provide plenty of opportunities for alternative sitting positions: Make sure that your child has access to a variety of seating options, such as chairs, stools, and cushions, and encourage them to try sitting in different positions, such as cross-legged, side-sitting, or long-sitting.
- Encourage active play: Physical activity can help children develop their muscles and coordination, and it may also encourage them to try different sitting positions. Encourage your child to engage in activities that involve movement, such as running, jumping, and climbing.
- Gradually reduce the amount of time your child spends w-sitting: If your child spends a lot of time w-sitting, try gradually reducing the amount of time they spend in this position. For example, you could set a timer for 15-minute intervals and encourage your child to try a different position during each interval.
- Using verbal cues: Such as saying “feet in front,” may help remind your child to sit in a different position. It is important to be consistent in using these cues and to reinforce them over time.
- Seek guidance from a healthcare professional: If you are concerned about your child’s development or sitting habits, consider consulting with a healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician or physical therapist. They can assess your child’s needs and provide guidance on appropriate sitting positions and activities.
Remember: Don’t stress
While some people may have concerns about the potential risks of w-sitting, most children who engage in this behavior are likely to be fine. Dr. Loder states that “the effects [of w-sitting] are exaggerated in the media” and that it is a natural way for children to sit as their bodies are developing.
Dr. Redlich also believes that the dangers of w-sitting are often overstated, but notes that being mindful of potential issues can help prevent future problems. She states that “awareness is important, as more children who could benefit from intervention can receive access.” However, in her opinion, the effects of w-sitting for typical children are exaggerated.
So, next time you’re tempted to parse out sitting advice, try:
It’s usually okay to sit in a w, but be aware of potential problems due to overuse!
It’s long-winded, but it works.