Hypermobile kids, kids with low muscle tone, and kids with sensory processing issues are champion “W-sitters”. What’s that? If your child sits with their thighs rotated inward, knees bent, and their feet rotated so their toes point outward, you have a W-sitter. This sitting pattern isn’t abnormal if it is only one of many positions your child uses while playing on the floor. It really isn’t. But if it is the ONLY way they like to sit, the only way they are able to sit without falling over, or the only way they are comfortable sitting on the floor, you may have a problem.
What kind of problems?
Persistent W-sitting can tighten hip and leg muscles to the point at which walking is negatively affected. It also overstretches and discourages the development of the muscles needed for good walking and postural control. It can loosen important hip and knee ligaments that are also essential for walking. W-sitting inhibits active trunk muscle activation (that core thing again!). We all know that having a weak core is a problem for good quality movement. And finally…poor gait quality is a safety issue. More falls, more tripping, more leaning on things and people. Read Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing for a deeper dive into safety awareness.
There is a sensory impact as well.
What isn’t always so obvious is that having a weak core and only using a sitting position that locks the lower body into a collapsed position tells a sensory-sensitive kid that their brain is telling the truth; they are vulnerable and it is not that easy or safe to move. This inhibits movement exploration and opportunities to build balance, strength, etc.
So….What is the best way to reposition your child’s legs?
- Don’t pull their feet out and around. If your kid has issues such as hypermobility, you may be contributing to more joint problems if you place force on delicate tissue.
- You can demonstrate alternate sitting patterns and see if they will copy your position. This requires the language, cognitive and motor skills to do so, and the willingness to comply. Young children and special needs kids may not be able to follow your directions. Some parents tell their child “Legs out” or “Fix your feet” and they slowly learn what that means.
- Try practicing regularly and rewarding other sitting patterns. Praise will work for some kids but not all kids. You know if you have a child that will take the bait.
- Tilt their trunk to one side, and wait for their brain to elicit a “righting reaction”; kicking the opposite leg out and forward. Repeat on the other side. A child with CP may not be able to overcome their spasticity to perform this, but you certainly can try it with any child. If your child fights you on this, tip them to the side faster so that the reflexive response overs before they realize it, and use all your Happiest Toddler techniques Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child to decrease the oppositional behavior.
- Think of other more dynamic positions for play. Read Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters)