Have you ever noticed that small children seem to be boneless? Meaning they can contort themselves into the oddest and most uncomfortable of positions, and it doesn't seem to bother them or cause them in any discomfort! Some of the ways they sit, sleep, and lounge make us cringe. But their bodies are pretty pliable, and those contortionist positions are, for the most part, harmless! However, some positions can actually be a problem, and cause some pretty concerning developmental, muscular, and skeletal issues. If you have a small child, you're likely familiar with W-sitting. You might have even heard that it's bad for your kids. But what is it, exactly? How is it bad? And most importantly, how can we discourage our kids from sitting this way?
W-sitting is exactly what is sounds like: when a child sits and forms a W with their legs. They'll be sitting on their bottom, with both knees bent and their legs pointing out and away from their body. We've also heard it called frog sitting, or reverse criss-cross. For whatever reason, it's a comfortable position for a lot of kiddos! It can give them some added stability in an upright sitting position, so it's very popular with babies and toddlers. W-sitting is super common, and you've probably seen your own kids move in and out of the position.
For short periods of time, it isn't an issue. But when kids sit in this position for long periods of time, or it's their preferred position for sitting at all times, there is the potential for problems.
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W-sitting can increase the risk of the child's leg and thigh muscles becoming short and tight, which can affect coordination, balance, and motor skills down the road. It can also increase a child's risk for hip dysplasia, especially in children already at risk or diagnosed with the condition. But it's not just physical development that's the issue. W-sitting makes it difficult for kids to rotate their trunks and perform tasks that require both hands together or crossing their arms from one side to another.
These skills are crucial for the development of writing skills and coordination, and can even affect hand preference as the child develops. W-sitting also makes it difficult to shift weight from one side to another, which is important for learning how to jump and developing standing balance. Finally, this position can actually weaken the trunk muscles, as the child is relying almost completely on their legs to keep them upright.
If you notice your child moving in and out of W-sitting, you probable don't have to worry too much. As they get stronger and are able to sit upright in other positions, they'll revert to W-sitting less and less. But if you happen to notice that your child goes right into W-sitting at all times, or sits in this position for long periods of time, you may want to begin to encourage them to use other sitting positions.
Long-sitting (legs straight out in front), side-sitting (legs bent and off to one side), and criss-cross sitting are all great alternatives. And if you have any questions or concerns about your child and W-sitting, it's always a great idea to discuss it with their pediatrician.