W-sitting looks like this: A child sits on his bottom with his legs bent at the knees and splayed out to the sides. If you stood and looked down at him, his legs would look like the letter “w”. Toddlers seem perfectly comfortable and content sitting this way, so why should you discourage it? It turns out habitual w-sitting can have developmental consequences.
Why to Discourage Habitual W-Sitting
If w-sitting becomes a child’s preferred sitting position, it can interfere with his development in a few key areas, including:
Postural Control — Children need postural control to master gross motor AND fine motor skills. Aside from stabilizing large body movements, postural control provides a sturdy base for refined movements of the hands, fingers, and eyes. Without good postural control, it’s hard for children to feed themselves, color, use scissors, learn to read, etc. W-sitting provides such a wide base of support for a child’s body that he doesn’t need to use his core muscles to stay upright. Over time this can lead to a weak core and poor postural control.
Bilateral Coordination — Crossing the midline by reaching the arms across the body is key to learning how to use both sides of the body in different ways at the same time. Because w-sitting creates such a wide base with the legs, it’s harder for a child to rotate his trunk and make cross-body movements. This can also interfere with developing a dominant hand, because he may use both hands equally in a w-position, rather than crossing the midline to use one preferred hand.
Balance — One of the ways children learn how to balance their bodies is by shifting their weight while sitting. W-sitting requires very little weight shifting because it keeps the body in one stable position.
Orthopedic Development — W-sitting puts unnatural stress on a child’s growing hips, legs, and heels, and may cause orthopedic problems. W-sitting is especially problematic for children with preexisting orthopedic issues.
How to Encourage Other Sitting Positions
To prevent a w-sitting habit, redirect your child to a more developmentally-friendly position when you see him w-sitting. Gently show or remind him how to sit another way. Here are alternatives to w-sitting that you can teach your little one:
- Cross-legged — Knees bent, legs crossed in front of the body, feet tucked under legs.
- Legs in front — Legs straight and parallel to each other, sticking out in front of the body.
- Legs to the side — Knees bent, both legs on one side of the body. Encourage both right and left side sitting to promote even development of both sides of the body.
- Sitting on a low stool or using a toddler-sized table and chair — This is especially helpful for children with a strong preference for w-sitting.
If your child’s w-sitting persists despite your efforts to discourage it, or if w-sitting coincides with consistent clumsiness, development of a limp, muscle weakness, or delayed gross or fine motor milestones, check in with your pediatrician or a pediatric physical or occupational therapist for guidance.