If you have walked into any classroom, there is a very high chance that you have seen some students W sitting.  You may even see some adults W sitting. Even Britney Spears sat in this position on the cover of her first album!  But what exactly does it mean when you see someone W sitting?  Let’s take a step back today and explore what W sitting is, why kids might do it, when to be concerned and what you can do to help.   

What is W sitting?

It is the term used to describe the position when kids sit with their bottom on the ground in between their legs.  The legs are bent and feet are splayed out to the side. If you stand above and look down at the child, the legs look like a W.  

Why do kids W sit?

It is important to figure out the ‘why’ behind the W sitting position.  Many babies and young children may W sit as they begin moving and exploring.   Some may have tight leg muscles that make it hard to sit in other positions.  Some may have weak core muscles or low tone, meaning their muscles are soft and floppy.  Other kids have legs that naturally turn in.  This position probably feels secure and comforting as it doesn’t challenge trunk muscles or balance.  Therefore, this may be the easier choice for many kids so they can focus more on playing and not just trying to balance and sit up.

 

When is W sitting a concern? 

W sitting is more of a concern if it is the only position a child chooses to play in.  When kids primarily choose the W sit position, it impacts development of important motor skills.  It limits their ability to learn to cross over the midline of the body, rotate their trunk (stomach and shoulders), shift their weight and activate their core muscles.  Kids need strong core muscles and have to be able to use two hands efficiently in order to perform important school fine motor skills like writing and cutting.  Therefore, a student who consistently W sits may have difficulty with tabletop fine motor tasks as well.  Consistent W sitting could even lead to stress on joints and back pain in the future.

Now all this being said, W sitting is not always a reason to sound the alarm. If a child with typical strength and muscle tone is W sitting some of the time, it is less of a concern. If children are very young and just learning how to move and explore the world, it is not uncommon to see W sitting.  However, if the child continues to stay in this position most of the time as they get older, especially a child who has decreased strength and low muscle tone, it becomes more of a concern.  

What can I do?

First of all, if you notice a student who is pretty stuck in the W sitting position for most of the day, talk with your OT or PT.  It is important to understand why a kid is W sitting and this can help develop specific interventions if needed.  In the meantime, here are some general tips you can try.

 

Encourage different positions.

  • Side sitting: the child sits on bottom, both legs are bent and swept to the other side.
  • Long sitting: the child sits with legs straight in front.
  • Criss cross: the classic floor position!

Side sitting

Long sitting

Criss cross

  • Short kneel: the child kneels, and then sits his bottom on his feet.
  • Prone: the child lays on his tummy.

Short kneel

Prone

Have the child sit on a wedge or a small bench.

  • If leg muscles are tight, a wedge or small bench/stepstool can help relieve that pressure while encouraging a more functional sitting position.

Engage the child in core strengthening activities.

  • Animal Walks
  • Yoga
  • Wheelbarrow Walking
  • Sit on a therapy ball
  • Gross motor play!  Especially running, jumping, climbing on playground equipment.

‘Fix your legs!’

This is a common verbal cue that I heard given to young kids when they are W sitting.  It can be helpful to bring some attention to the sitting position with verbal cues and even tactile cues, however I have found the effect to be pretty short lived especially if the underlying cause is related to strength and muscle tone.  I have had more success incorporating some of the other strategies listed above with verbal and tactile cues to move kids into more functional play positions and help them maintain that position.

I hope this was helpful!  If you are ever concerned about your child’s motor skills, don’t hesitate to reach out to your OT or PT for assistance.

References:

  • My PT friends, especially my friend Mary Kay, who have taught me so much about this topic over the years.  So much of what I learned from them was incorporated into this blog post.
  • North Shore Pediatric Therapy 

This blog is for informational purposes only.  The information provided is general in nature.  Please contact your OT for specific recommendations.  

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Katie McKenna, MS, OTR/L

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