Children who sit on the floor with their thighs rolled inward and their calves rotated out to the sides are told that they are “W-sitting”. Parents are told to reposition their kids immediately. There are even garments like Hip Helpers that make it nearly impossible to sit in this manner. Some therapists get practically apoplectic when they see kids sitting this way. Not me; I prefer to be a stealth ninja therapist: create situations in which the child wants to reposition themselves.
I get asked about W-sitting no less than 3x/week, so I though I would post some information about w-sitting, and some simple ways to address this without aggravating your child or yourself:
- This is not an abnormal sitting pattern. Using it all the time, and being unable to sit with stability and comfort in other positions…that’s the real problem. Typically-developing kids actually sit like this from time to time. When children use this position constantly, they are telling therapists something very important about how they use their bodies. But abnormal? Nah.
- Persistent W-sitting isn’t without consequence, just because it isn’t painful to your child. As a child sits in this position day after day, some muscles and ligaments are becoming overstretched. This creates points of weakness and instability, on top of any hypermobility that they may already display. Other muscles and ligaments are becoming shorter and tighter. This makes it harder for them to have a wide variety of movements and move smoothly from position to position. Their options for rest and activity just decreased. Oops. And they don’t feel uncomfortable in that position. If you aren’t hypermobile yourself, you might not believe me. Here is an explanation: Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way.
- Sitting this way locks a child into a too-static, too-stable sitting position. This appeals to the wobbly child, the weak child, and the fearful child, but it makes it harder for them to shift and change position. Especially in early childhood, developing coordination is all about being able to move easily, quickly and with control. There are better choices.
- A child who persistently W-sits is likely to get up and walk with an awkward gait pattern. All that over-stretching and over-tightening isn’t going to go away once they are on their feet. You will see the effects as they walk and run. It is the (bad) gift that keeps on giving.
What can you do?
Well, good physical and occupational therapy can make a huge difference, but for today, start by reducing the amount of time they spend on the floor. There are other positions that allow them to play and build motor control:
- Encourage them to stand to play. They can stand at a table, they can stand at the couch, they can stand on a balance disc. Standing, even standing while gently leaning on a surface, could be helping them more than W-sitting.
- Give them a good chair or bench to sit on. I am a big fan of footstools for toddlers and preschoolers. They are stable and often have non-skid surfaces that help them stay sitting. They key is making sure their feet can be placed flat on the floor with their thighs at or close to level with the floor. This should help them activate their trunk and hip musculature effectively.
- Try prone. AKA “tummy time”; it’s not just for babies. This position stretches out tight hip flexors and helps kids build some trunk control. To date, I haven’t met one child over 3 who wouldn’t play a short tablet game with me in this position. And them we turn off the device and play with something else in the same position!
- If your child still wants/ needs to sit on the floor, fix their leg position without risking damage to their hips and knees. Read How To Correctly Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit” for more details.
For more strategies for hypermobile kids, take a look at Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s Future and How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Activity Levels in Children.
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