Walk into any daycare classroom and you’ll see it. My hips start to ache at the mere sight of it. It’s on every pediatric PT’s shortlist of cringe-worthy things to never ever do. Right up there with skipping crawling and using baby walkers. The notorious “W Sit”!!
“W Sitting” is a position in which you sit on the floor with both knees bent and your feet splayed out behind you to either side. Taking a bird’s eye view, the legs make the shape of a “W”. I can barely get into this position myself, but why do some kids LOVE it, yet PT’s HATE it so much?
When kids learn the “W”, their bodies have figured out, “Woah this works really great for me!! This is by far the easiest way for me to sit and play”. Think of the pelvis as a large bowl. To “W” is to passively drop your trunk into this really stable bowl that will do the work of keeping the body upright with minimal effort. In this position, you can literally hang out and your muscles will do zero work. This is why little ones, especially kids with low muscle tone and related postural weakness, REALLLLLY love this position. It’s the path of least resistance and who can blame them? Who wouldn’t want to work less to make play easier? But here’s why it’s on the PT cringe list….
- Feeds into postural weakness. There is really no opportunity to use your trunk muscles in the “W ” position. They don’t have to do any work here. But we need strong trunk muscles for crawling, standing, walking, moving in and out of positions, breathing, digesting……ok let’s just say everything. You need them for everything!
- Dreadful posture. The spine curves and the pelvis rounds under.
Ugh. Look at that rounded posture! 😩
- Discourages exploration: It’s impossible to shift your weight while in the “W”. Every single movement we perform in life starts with a shift in weight. If you’re sitting on the floor, you see a toy, you shift your weight, reach (hopefully across your body) for it, and move to get it. In the “W”, you are stuck. You can only reach what is within arm’s length. And you can only use your right hand on your right side of your body and the left hand for the left side. You aren’t moving. You aren’t exploring your environment at all. At least not efficiently and not while moving your head and body dynamically through space. This leads to a ton of other issues, not the least of which is vestibular (Side note: this is the system that informs you about where your head and body are in space. When it’s impaired I hear things like “I don’t know why but my son really hates the swing at the playground”).
- Dreadful hip & knee positioning. The “W” puts your hips at the extremes of internal rotation putting them at risk for dislocation. Same with the knees. The femur above the knee is rotated all the way in while the tibia below the knee is rotated all the way out. That’s some serious stress on the knee joint!
- Dreadful foot positioning. Especially for kids with really flat feet, I find that the “W” feeds into the pronation and makes a flat foot even flatter. It also contributes to in-toeing or what’s commonly called “pigeon-toed” with both feet directed inward instead of straight ahead.
Ok, so we all agree we don’t like the “W” position. What do we do?
- Give reminders. One of my absolute biggest pedi PT pet peeves of all time is when I hear adults tell kids who are “W” sitting to “Fix your feet”. Ugh! I am NOT a fan of sending the message to kids that there is any part of them that is wrong and needs to be “fixed”. It’s the worst. I much prefer “Feet in front!” or “Where are your feet? Put them in front so I can see them!” and then delight in how cute their bare feet, shoes or socks are!
- Alternatives. Kneeling or sitting on heels are both fabulous alternatives. I like to make the “W” disappear by scooping the feet right under the bottom for a safer and more dynamic way to sit. Crisscross applesauce, circle sit, side sit with both feet directed to either the right or the left, in a chair or step stool, on the belly, in a long sit with both legs straight out in front. These are a few different options.
To those kiddos who love it so much, we hear you! We get it! But we also want you to grow strong, explore, and play without boundaries! We promise you’ll thank us later and your joints will thank us too! “W” sit no more!!