This is a posture we see more often than not in classrooms during floor time and other activities performed on the floor. A child who W-sits, would sit on their knees, with feet splaying to the side and the bum flat on the floor, making the legs take on the appearance of a W from the top. Occupational therapists in general will frown upon this type of sitting and I would like to educate you on why.
W-sitting in a developing child is normally done to help the child maintain better balance as it widens the base of support and lowers the center of gravity. Children feel more comfortable in this position and it allows them to move their upper body freely. It is a preferred position to assume if he/she has low tone as it compensates for a poor posture that will be likely in a normal seating position. In short, it is a compensating strategy for a child and we need to ask the question… What is he/she compensating for and what will be the effect?
OT’s who see a child W-sit should automatically wonder about the child’s muscle tone, balance, reflexes, midline crossing, bilateral co-ordination, gross motor ability and all other abilities that need these aspect as foundation in order to develop. This is due to the likely hood of the hip muscles shortening in the incorrect places and the inability to rotate the body in this position. If core muscle strength is not developed well enough, it impacts all other gross-motor and later fine-motor development.
What must you do? Encourage the child to use alternative methods of sitting, like side-sitting, crossed legged sitting or kneeling properly. Find out why the child is sitting in this manner and assist with this, for instance, if it is due to weak core muscles, let him do sit-ups to strengthen these muscles.
There can also be long term complications for W-sitters. The hip sockets are still developing and by spending a lot of time in this unwanted position, they may develop sockets differently to other children which may influence their gate. These are typically children who walk with toes pointing in.
W-sitting is not all bad… if this is the only seated position for your child to be functional in and to be able to play, please do not prevent it from happening. The only thing is to exhaust all the other options first.