W sitting is when a child is seated with their bottom on the ground, having their knees and feet behind them.
Most parents have heard of W sitting and that it is "bad" to do— but in fact, when you take look around a preschool classroom you'll likely see many children happily playing in the W seated position. As a mom and pediatric physical therapist whose baby prefers to W sit, I spend much of my day repositioning a determined baby and recounting phrases such as "fix your W, please."
So here is what a clinician and mom in the trenches of W sitting wants you to know:
What is W sitting?
W sitting is when a child is seated with their bottom on the ground, having their knees in front and feet behind them. If you were to look down at your child while standing above them, you would see the legs make the letter W.
Infants and preschoolers alike frequently chose this position while playing because it is comfortable and easy. Passing in and out of W sitting is okay, but it can become problematic when the child uses W sitting as their go-to and forgoes other seated positions.
Why is prolonged W sitting problematic?
This position allows the child to shift their weight onto their bottom, which allows them to feel supported with less muscle work. Although, the child feels stable this can be troublesome because postural muscles require work to stay strong. Weakness associated with inactivity can make it more difficult for the child to hold themself upright with activities, such as walking, running and sitting down.
When sitting in the W position, the child's weight is not evenly displaced, which places increased stress on the child's hip and knee joints. These stresses can increase the risk of pain and even dislocation over time.
When a child is resting comfortably on their bottom, it is easier to play with both hands in from of them. This can lead to them being less likely to develop a hand preference, such as left or right. In order to do this the child needs to be able to turn to their sides while playing, which can be more difficult in the W position. Plus, the ability to choose a hand preference allows the child to develop the muscle strength and coordination to successfully master handwriting skills down the road.
Tips to reduce this type of sitting
Although a child may prefer to sit in this position now, it does not always mean they will develop problems down the road. If your child is a baby who has learned to sit and now prefers to play in W sitting, reposition them. If they're older, verbal cues can be provided to guide them into a better position. Offer other on the ground seated positions, such as the criss-cross applesauce position, seated with legs straight, or sitting with legs to one side. You can even encourage your child to play in the kneeling position or seated on a small stool or beanbag.
With encouragement and alternate seated options provided, children will usually naturally transition away from W sitting. However, if you are concerned about their sitting habits or development, it is always recommended to consult your pediatrician.