Article 05 - W-Sitting... Is it harmful?

Please note: All information is written with normally developing children in mind.

Looking around a preschool, school or childcare room at the children sitting on a mat listening to a story, there will be one or two children in each group who are sitting in a W-Sit. A W-Sit is when a child sits with their knees placed on the floor facing inward and their feet out to each side... like the letter W. This is something that is often accepted as just the way he/she sits. But from a developmental perspective this is actually an unsuitable sitting position for many reasons.

When children are born their hips are turned in... that is why they can't walk straight away at birth. As humans we need to go through specific stages of physical development to get to the right movement and posture required, when it is required. The human body is a very complex and clever thing!!!!

As a child gets older his/her hips begin to turn out and the walking process becomes possible. If a child is continually sitting in a W- sit they are training their hips to remain inward. This has a long term impact on the alignment of ankles, knees, hips and pelvis. For example the ligaments in the knees are continually stretched on the inside and shortened on the outside of the knee. When walking, this will create a knocked knee action. Continual W sitting affects the hips as well and a clumsy walking gait often occurs.

Not only does this body alignment have an impact on development and co-ordination, but can effect the child's involvement in movement and sporting activity. Running, hopping and skipping actions are not often as easy or fluid for children with turned in hips and legs.

If you look at a competent runner or a high level athlete, their arm and leg action moves in a straight line, forward and back... not across the body. This across the body action of arms and legs puts the body off balance, makes the job harder and uses more energy. A child who regularly sits in a W-Sit often has a turned in leg action, which then often forces the arm action across the body.

Sitting cross legged enhances the natural turn out of the hips and is a great way for young children to sit. Although children under 3 years cannot sit cross legged, because developmentally they just can't do it yet. They will sit with their legs out to the front or spread to each side or one leg bent inward and the other out straight.

Cross legged sitting for a child who constantly sits in a W-Sit position is VERY uncomfortable. Their ligaments are not flexible enough to comfortably sit in an opposite position to what they are used to doing as habit. Sitting with the legs tucked under the chin or straight out in front are comfortable alternatives.

Luckily the brain and body are good at changing things and we can encourage a positive sitting action over time if needed. Lots of fun activities that help the awareness of feet positioning either forward or crossed are encouraging good posture and a correct sitting position... which encourages good movement.

Remember... if a child feels good about how they move and can positively participate in social and physical activity... self esteem is high.

If you would like more ideas now on how to enhance correct sitting experiences see the Moving To Learn book and CD.

Please note: If using any of this information for adult training or other use besides personal, please inform the author and acknowledge the source of information.